Newsletter December 2019

It has been a tough year for everyone here in the Okavango Delta – the farmers, the villagers, the wildlife, the trees and for us at Rhino Conservation Botswana.  A combination of poor summer rains with a meagre winter flood led to severe drought conditions across the Delta this year. The effect of the drought was further exacerbated by a series of devastating fires across the Okavango, removing what remained of the graze and browse. Over the year we have witnessed serious conflict between large mammals over water, dehydration of the old, sick and injured and dramatic movement of elephant, buffalo and rhino across the Delta in search of grass, browse and water.

Crippled by the drought and fires, we received a further blow when poachers moved into the Delta, mercilessly killing our precious rhinos and undoing our hard work. But we do not give up easily, and we have risen to the challenge, increasing our efforts on all fronts. We thank all of you who have stood by our side over this difficult time. We could not do this without you.

We hope that the tide is turning, as we have recently been blessed by the return of the rains and our rhino births still outnumber poaching losses. With your support we know that we can achieve our goal of increasing rhino numbers in Botswana, creating significant black and white rhino populations that will buffer these species against global extinction.

PULA

The long-awaited rains have finally arrived, falling over the parched Okavango Delta. We are literally singing in the rain, while the wildlife is jumping with joy! The Earth is soaking up the glorious water and we can already see flushes of juicy green grass, which is a huge relief to the grazers like our precious white rhinos. The rain has been patchy and a little late, but it is so welcome that we won’t complain – we are just hoping for a lot more over the summer months to come. We are pleased that there has been some good rain over the Angolan catchment area that feeds the Okavango River, so we are hoping for proper floods to flow down into the Delta in 2020.

Rain is such a valuable blessing in Botswana that the country has named its currency Pula – the local Setswana word for rain.

POACHING

The last few months have been devastating as rhinos are increasingly lost to poaching. International criminal syndicates have infiltrated our beloved Okavango Delta and are killing endangered rhinos to feed the illegal rhino horn market.  The loss of any rhino is alarming, but the fact that many black rhinos have been targeted is of particular concern as the population of this critically endangered species is being reduced across all of its range countries. There have been heavy losses of black rhino in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa during the year. Even more concerning is the loss of female black rhinos, which are the future of the species. In two instances in the Delta female black rhinos were killed together with their calves and in one case a black rhino calf was left orphaned.

Our patrols are most often the first to discover a poached rhino. We report the loss to the relevant government departments who spring into action with our assistance. As a result of the recent poaching losses, the Botswana Defence Force has rapidly and strongly increased their presence on the ground within the Okavango Delta and we have also increased our field and air surveillance capacity.

We also work closely with the communities who live next to rhinos, as they are our first line of defence against rhino poaching. Over the years we have built trusting relationships and engaged with these communities to understand their needs and motivations. We aim to provide incentives for wildlife stewardship and also to instil pride in Botswana’s wildlife heritage. These people are our eyes and ears on the ground and without their assistance we will never win the fight against poaching.

GOVERNMENT COLLABORATION

We are proud that Rhino Conservation Botswana is the only organization formally mandated to assist and advise Botswana in its rhino conservation activities. Our strong relationship with government is set to continue as we recently signed an extension to our Memorandum of Understanding, with our formal partnership now extending to September 2024.  The extension agreement includes new clauses that allow us to take part in efforts to improve wildlife crime investigations and the protection of rhinos. We believe that we will only achieve our vision of building significant black and white rhino populations in Botswana by working alongside government.

THE RHINOS

As can be expected with free-ranging wild animals there have been a number of rhinos injured over the last year. The rhinos have been injured in various ways including fighting with elephants, fighting between themselves and sadly some gunshot wounds. The injured rhinos are usually spotted by our pilot during his morning aerial surveillance flights, and sometimes by our ground patrols. In each case we gather a team of RCB staff and partners to immobilise the animal and assist with the relevant medical treatment. In most cases the animals have made full recoveries after our medical interventions.

We have also undertaken a number of rhino rescues. These are cases where we decide to move rhinos that have wandered into high risk poaching zones (and also a sad case where we needed to move an orphaned calf to a rhino sanctuary). Each rescue is a large and difficult undertaking that is carried out with speed and precision by a skilled team of experts from wildlife vets to pilots and ground crew. In each case we dart and immobilise the animal, load it into a crate and transport it with an armed escort to the core protection zone where we wake the sedated animal and release it into the safer area.

Our extensive tagging operations have also continued this year in collaboration with our partners. We undertook three operations to fit tracking devices to untagged wild rhinos over the last few months. As poaching increases, it is vital that we are able to accurately keep track of the rhinos, and the transmitter devices fitted during these operations allows us to monitor the rhinos effectively. Further to fitting the trackers, while the animal is immobilized we also take body measurements and samples for research purposes and clip their ears into unique identification patterns.

COMMUNITY

We believe that people living near rhinos need to understand the value that wildlife can bring to their communities and should be involved in conservation. We also acknowledge that low income is a significant threat to rhino safety when criminal organizations infiltrate local communities with poaching opportunities. We are therefore working to stimulate sustainable income opportunities by working closely with three communities in the Okavango Delta to assist them to improve their incomes.  Our Women for Rhinos group have been busy creating their beautiful crafts that we assist them to create and market. These include foldable shopping bags in bright fabric, beaded food covers and basketware. A number of orders have been placed as a result of social media posts showcasing their work and the women crafters have recently fulfilled an order for 100 bags which are headed for Scotland. Our community work extends beyond the Women for Rhinos group to extensive work to improve early childhood education and nutrition, community food gardens and our environmental education work with local primary and high schools.

A GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

Are you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who has everything, a gift that shows just how much you care about wildlife and the planet? Consider gifting a rhino adoption this festive season.  For just £50 (or US$60) for the year, you can adopt the black rhino Tsholofelo for your loved one and support our vital rhino conservation work. As part of the adoption they will receive a personalized thank you and Rhino Conservation Botswana adoption certificate.

THANK YOU

We would like to thank each one of you for your support over the year and wish you a safe and peaceful festive season. We look forward to 2020 with hope for the rhinos and for the planet.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

As a charity, our efforts are only as strong as the support we receive, and we are grateful for your support.