White Rhinos Restored to Kenya's Meru National Park
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 4, 2002 (ENS) - Eight white rhinos being moved to Kenya's Meru National Park from private game ranches this week will not have to share the park with other rhinos. In the late 1980s, all but one of the park's white rhinos were wiped out by poachers seeking horns for the lucrative medicinal trade. In 1989, the last remaining rhino was relocated to Lake Nakuru National Park for its protection.
Meru National Park in northern Kenya is best known as the setting for Joy Adamson's book "Born Free," the story of George and Joy Adamson's life and research amongst the lions and cheetah there.
Straddling the equator and crossed by 13 rivers and many streams, the park's terrain ranges from woodlands at 3,000 feet on the slopes of the Nyambeni Mountain Range to open plains dotted with doum palms along the riverbanks.
"With the restocking of key species such as rhino, Meru National Park is now being given a new lease on life after almost all its wildlife was wiped out by poaching and disease," said Michael Wamithi, IFAW regional director for East Africa.
The translocation of these eight white rhino will help to rebuild the animal populations that once inhabited the park.
IFAW will provide on-site assistance and has contributed almost US$60,000 to the relocation. Some of the funds were recently used to move 20 rare Grevy's zebras into Meru. The translocation of more than 200 Burchell's zebras is planned for the park later in the year.
In recent years, Meru National Park has benefited from a massive redevelopment project, with assistance from international donors including IFAW, which has committed US$1.25 million over the next five years to restore the park. The park's infrastructure has been completely rebuilt, security improved, and Meru has once again become one of Kenya's most popular tourist destinations where visitors can see elephants, hippos, lions, leopards, and cheetah.
White rhino are viewed as one of Africa's greatest conservation success stories. Poached nearly to extinction in the early 1900s, careful conservation practices have increased the worldwide population to 11,000 animals. Kenya now has about 170 in total, the majority on private ranches, and about 45 in two nationally protected areas.
South Africa has the world's largest population of white rhinos - about 9,750, with 2,000 of these in private ownership. But IFAW is concerned that a new proposal by South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to establish a legal trade in white rhino products could once again place the rhinos at risk.
The proposal states, "South Africa seeks approval to establish a legal trade in white rhino products (excluding horn)... As rhinos are not poached to obtain these products there can be no concern that legalising such trade will adversely affect South Africa's or other rhino populations."
IFAW sees this proposal as a first step towards seeking permission to trade in rhino horn at a later date.
But IFAW says the move to open legal trade would increase the threat to rhinos by masking the existing illegal market in rhino parts.
"It's astonishing to us that, in the draft proposal, South Africa makes reference to the sale of rhino horn at a later date, a proposal which has been dismissed for many years for very good reason," says Jason Bell, IFAW's Southern Africa director. "By creating a legal market for products in endangered species, one merely encourages an illegal market that trades in products from poached animals," he said.
The South African rhino trade proposal was drafted as a precursor to South Africa's final submission to the meeting of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be held in November. The agency has also approved in principle a proposal for the sale of elephant ivory stockpiles, as well as increased hunting quotas for highly endangered leopard and cheetah.
"The trades in ivory and rhino horn will have equally detrimental effects on wild elephant and rhino populations in Africa and Asia," said Bell. "History clearly shows that it is virtually impossible to control trade in these products."