IntroductionThe project aims to continually monitor the black rhino in Liwonde National Park to maintain high levels of security and reduce poaching risks. This project aims to fit tracking and monitoring devices onto most of the rhino in the park, as well as the setting up of a rhino monitoring team with vehicle to assist Malawi National Parks in monitoring and anti-poaching patrols.
Researcher: Krisz GyonnyiRegion: Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Organization: Central Africa Wilderness Safaris, Mvuu Camp
Krisz Gyongyi works as the Rhino Monitoring Officer with Wilderness Safaris Malawi (CAWS), who have always worked closely with Malawi National Parks Department in the past however they have not been formally involved in the Rhino monitoring and security until more recently. There is currently a very significant threat of poaching to the 14 or so black rhino in Liwonde National Park. This issue needs to be addressed urgently and the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife have very limited resources to continue effectively protecting the remaining rhinos.
BackgroundThere is currently a very significant threat of poaching to the black rhino population in Liwonde National Park in Malawi. This issue needs to be addressed urgently and the Malawi National Parks Department has very limited resources to continue effectively protecting the remaining animals.
The overall aim of the project is thus to continually monitor the black rhino in Liwonde National Park, to maintain high levels of security and reduce poaching risks. This project aimed to fit tracking and monitoring devices into the horns of most of the rhino in Liwonde National Park as well as to set up a rhino monitoring team with a vehicle to assist Malawi National Parks in monitoring, as well as to conduct anti-poaching patrols. Rhino have been successfully conserved in Liwonde National Park in the past, but still exist only at fairly low numbers, so this project needs to be maintained until numbers reach higher levels.
- To establish and expand a detailed monitoring and security programme – historically carried out solely by Malawi National Parks but now envisaged to be a collaboration between Malawi National Parks, Wilderness Safaris Malawi and African Parks.
- To continue protecting the current rhino population from the direct threat of poaching.
Protecting these creatures as a whole has been ongoing for many years but the more direct involvement of Wilderness Safaris Malawi as well as African Parks is a new initiative that took place in late 2012.
- Tracking devices will be fitted to as many of the rhino in Liwonde National Park as possible.
- Once the tracking devices have been fitted, daily patrols will be conducted to monitor the animals and to establish their home range and territory sizes and record as much as much data as possible.
- While the animals are immobilised during the fitting of tracking devices, DNA samples will be taken for research purposes and for the record.
- The rhinos’ toenails will be individually notched, which will aid in identifying each individual from their tracks.
(Note: Due to the threat of poaching, the Trust is not at liberty to disclose rhino numbers.)
A new capture operation was launched in early June. Overall, the primary aim was to fit tracking systems on two high priority reproductive females both still with calves,
Sadly, during the operation, two rhino calves were discovered dead. The first had been caught in a heavy duty, four-strand wire snare. The second is thought to have died from a severe ankle injury.
Dozens of wire snares were collected while tracking the rhino in and around the Rhino Sanctuary.
A rescue operation was organised for 51-month old rhino, who was sighted on 22 March in a satisfactory though slightly deteriorating body condition with a three strand wire noose tight around his facial area. The snare wire was noticed to have constricted the upper lip with affected nostril cavities and upper head between the posterior and anterior horns. During the rescue operation, the rhino was darted and his wounds were washed and sterilised.
A 21-month old rhino was seen with a swollen, open snare injury on his left foot. A rescue operation was co-organised by DNPW and CAWS with significant input given by stakeholders, African Parks Majete and immeasurable contributions by three volunteer veterinarian and dart gun professionals.
The rhino was darted and following a short induction phase, he was fully anaesthetised after having run a short distance. The wound was treated with multiple disinfectant regimes and a dosage of long-acting antibiotics.
Wilderness Wildlife Trust, with the support of various partners including a generous donation from Rhino Force, facilitated the funding for a successful black rhino darting operation that took place in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park, between 17 and 29 November 2013.
Led by Chief Veterinary Officer of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group, Dr Pete Morkel, the aim of the darting operation was to fit VHF transmitters on as many black rhinos as possible in order to maximise monitoring efficiency of the population in the face of intensifying poaching pressure in the park. The new tracking devices aid ongoing monitoring, ecological research and overall security measures run by the managing authority, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), and the tourism concessionaire, Wilderness Safaris.
Since November 2012, daily patrols involving professional rhino trackers of the DNPW Rhino Protection Team and Krisztián Gyöngyi (Rhino Monitoring and Research Ecologist) have been conducted to monitor, protect and record relevant ecological data on the species living in and outside the Sanctuary. The new transmitters will not only increase the monitoring efficiency of the rhino, but locating them in the park will also be considerably easier.
“We had to ensure that the rhino were darted before the oncoming wet season and were thrilled with the success of the operation. Days were long, with early 4:30am starts. The team worked hard and as a result five rhinos were captured and treated during the 13-day campaign. We covered approximately 190 km on foot, spending 118 hours actively tracking rhino in the bush. We were also grateful for the support and assistance of Dr Amanda Salb of the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre and James Kamtsokota from African Parks Majete, whose exemplary tracking skills and knowledge of black rhino behaviour played an important role in finding the rhino”, said Mr Gyöngyi.
Conserving the small stock of black rhino in Liwonde is of a high national and international priority. However, like many populations in Africa, this one is also severely threatened by illicit poaching. This, coupled with the limited resources of DNPW in continuing its protection, necessitated the launch of the Trust’s Liwonde Black Rhino Protection Project in 2012. It is a joint collaboration between the DNPW, Wilderness Safaris Malawi and Mr Bentley Palmer – a private stakeholder who has played an instrumental role in the protection of rhino in Liwonde for over 20 years.
Click here for images from the darting operation in November.
He now has both a satellite transponder and also a VHF transponder, so the monitors are confident that they can keep a good eye on him.The project would like to thank the donor who helped to buy a vehicle for monitoring the rhino, and those who funded flights and costs for the veterinarian.
The project continued this month, with attempts to capture two black rhinos to attach new transmitters onto them. Dr Peter Morkel, the veterinarian, flew in to dart the two rhino. Trustee Russel Friedman, Dr Morkel and support staff spent five days in Liwonde and only managed to capture the one sub-adult male – he is about 10 years old named Nangondo. It was necessary as he had moved out of the sanctuary and was fairly far south in the park.
He now has both a satellite transponder and also a VHF transponder, so the monitors are confident that they can keep a good eye on him.
The project would like to thank the donor who helped to buy a vehicle for monitoring the rhino, and those who funded flights and costs for the veterinarian.
The darting operation continued into December 2012. The Wilderness Wildlife Trust provided both VHF and satellite collars at considerable expense. Dr Pete Morkel darted and collared the rhino as well as taking DNA samples. Krisz Gyonnyi, a graduate student with considerable experience in monitoring and studying black rhino, is also stationed in Liwonde again to take care of the ongoing monitoring post collaring.
Bentley Palmer from Blantyre organised funding for a temporary three-strand fence to replace the current damaged sanctuary fence. African Parks provided trackers and a dart gun and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife supplied a team of scouts to assist in finding the rhino.
In a three-week spell of intense tracking and hard work in the blistering heat, a number of rhino were darted and collared and these are now under constant satellite surveillance.
This month a large focus was put on darting and fitting as many tracking devices as possible within the Liwonde National Park. The ambitious project of darting and fitting these devices was conducted by wildlife veterinarian Dr Pete Morkel and a team of scouts from the Malawi National Parks Department. Tracking and darting these animals on foot in dense mopane woodland and drainage lines in 40° Celsius heat was a feat on its own! Going forward, rhino monitoring patrols will be set up to locate and monitor condition of the rhino as well as record any behaviours and breeding status.