Rhino Conservation, Covid-19 and How to Help

The Covid-19 pandemic has reached into every area of life, shaking our sense of security. The field of wildlife conservation has not been immune. In May, South Africans welcomed the news of a dramatic drop in rhino poaching incidents. But it seems that short term gains could fade in the face of long term effects.

For this article, we have joined up with Helping Rhinos, a UK-based organisation that works with a small number of rhino conservation projects across Africa. The team’s main goal is to secure the necessary support and funding to ensure that projects in the field can continue to operate. They’ll be sharing what they do and how you can help from home.

Wildlife Conservation and Covid-19
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

Wildlife Conservation Gains

The number of rhinos poached in South Africa dropped by 53% in the first six months of 2020. In April, the Kruger National Park recorded the fewest monthly poaching incidents since September 2013. The national Covid-19 lockdown played a major role in this decline.

With the park closed to tourists, poachers were unable to use their regular drive-in and drop-off tactics. Travel restrictions also disrupted the syndicate supply chains. All provincial and national borders were closed and visible policing was an extra deterrent.

Sadly, as authorities gradually lifted lockdown restrictions, rhino poaching slowly increased too.

“Aerial patrol is a critical part of anti-poaching operations and is proven to be a strong deterrent to poachers. ‘Eyes in the Sky’ is part of our work with African Rhino Conservation Collaboration (ARCC), based in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. This project gives a number of rhino-holding reserves in the area access to monitoring and patrol flights. With the help of our supporters, we were able to put the first light aircraft and its young pilot from the local community into operation. We’ve also been able to fund the project’s operational costs and start a fund for the development of future young pilots.”

Helping Rhinos

Help from Home

Just as Helping Rhinos needs eyes in the sky, they also need voices in the crowd. Social media is a powerful platform for creating awareness. You can help them to help rhinos by spreading the word. Find their online communities here:

Rhino Reserve Losses

Tourism revenue is often the main funding source for wildlife conservation in South Africa. Covid-19 has hit rhino reserves hard. The abrupt and total loss of tourism ruined budgets, affecting daily activities and long term plans alike.

Immediately, Covid-19 put salaries and overheads at risk. New, unexpected costs like health and safety equipment also made the problem worse. Reserves were even forced to delay non-critical conservation tasks, even the important and time-sensitive.

However, the reopening of provincial borders brought a small measure of relief. Reserves that usually cater for international guests have created more accessible offers for locals in an attempt to generate much-needed income.

“We have seen a huge rise in the number of calves left orphaned as a result of attacks on their mothers. Sometimes the little rhino baby is left grieving over the loss of its mother, but on many occasions, the calf is also badly injured. Helping Rhinos is a proud partner of the Zululand Rhino Orphanage, the only dedicated facility of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal. It is operated by a devoted team who provide 24 hour care to all the rhino and hippo orphans. Their goal is to return all the orphans back to the wild as soon as they are old enough and strong enough.”

Helping Rhinos

Help from Home

Helping Rhinos runs the ‘Adopt a Rhino Orphan’ programme in collaboration with Zululand Rhino Orphanage. In fact, adoptions are a great way to help conservation programmes continue their work. You can adopt a rhino orphan here.

Rhino Reserves and Rangers Under Pressure
Photo by Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash

Increased Pressure for Rangers

Covid-19 has undeniably caused significant challenges for rangers. Since they provide an essential service, they continued protecting rhinos throughout the lockdown.

Many rangers have had to take pay cuts as reserves labour under the loss of income. Furthermore, they haven’t had the benefit of tourists and guides acting as extra eyes and ears in the field. They’ve also had the new responsibility of protecting human health: their own and that of their team, families and communities.

In some cases, rangers distributed critical food parcels to vulnerable villages surrounding the reserves. But most often, they have been confined to far flung stations, isolated from their families and morale-boosting training.

“The Black Mambas are SA’s first all-female anti-poaching unit. They are 36 young African women who patrol 50,000 hectares of the Balule Nature Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park. These women, with a passion for wildlife and rhino conservation, are also the voice in the community through their conservation work. The objectives of the Black Mambas is not only the protection of rhinos through boots on the ground and a presence on the frontline, but also through being a role model in their communities. They want their communities to understand that there are far greater benefits to them through rhino conservation rather than poaching.”

Helping Rhinos

Help from Home

The deployment of women from the local community into a typically male dominated environment is a truly innovative approach to wildlife conservation. For this reason, Helping Rhinos is a proud partner of the Black Mambas. You can support these courageous women through their ‘Sponsor a Black Mamba‘ programme.

Communities on the Edge

The lockdown undoubtedly hit the poorest of the poor harder than anyone else. In South Africa, the communities near reserves depend on tourism for jobs and economic opportunities.

Similarly, the reserves depend on villages to support their anti-poaching mission by alerting them to suspicious activities. Conservation education and awareness campaigns have been successful in these communities, but reality is harsh. As food insecurity increases, villages may turn to bush-meat as a food source. Escalating poverty could also drive them to consider poaching high value species like rhino.

“The purpose of the Kariega Foundation is to enhance the well-being of local communities through enterprise development, education and youth development; and to be united in its efforts to protect and conserve the natural heritage of the Eastern Cape, particularly the Kariega wilderness. The Foundation delivers education programmes to the local villages, including school lectures and activities enjoyed by the whole community. It also supports wildlife protection activities such as anti-poaching operations, including ranger units and dog patrols. Each of the collaborative community projects run and supported by the Kariega Foundation are planned and implemented to ensure a legacy of sustainability, accountability, empowerment and community pride.”

Helping Rhinos

Help from Home

Helping Rhinos supports the Kariega Foundation with the production of educational materials for their community outreach programmes. You can donate towards this cause here. If you would like to make a difference in person (once all travel restrictions have been lifted), we can connect you with their volunteer programme.

Vusi Mahlasela on Conservation