Visitors look at a black Rhino named Baraka who is blind at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia County on August 5, 2014. PHOTO
Wildlife conservancies in Kenya are now investing heavily in cutting-edge security systems to tame increased poaching of wildlife.
The security practices being employed to fight the illegal trade include armed patrols, informer networks, specialised armed teams, aircraft and tracker dogs and unmanned aerial vehicles.
With the growing complexity of the illegal wildlife trade, experts say drones could soon be used in conservation efforts.
Chief Executive Officer of Laikipia-based Ol Pejeta Conservancy Richard Vigne, in an interview, said the new measures being adopted would ensure the country’s wildlife is preserved.
“We are currently spending more than $2 million (Sh180 million) per year to tackle any imminent security risks facing our animals,” said Mr Vigne. “Due to this pressure, our funds are so committed that we are just operating at a break-even point.”
Ol Pejeta is East Africa’s largest Black Rhino sanctuary, housing 102 black rhinos after the single largest rhino translocation ever undertaken in the region in February 2007.
The translocation, according to the conservancy, helped ensure that maximum breeding rates are achieved and adequate food resources maintained.
The population of black rhino in Africa plummeted from an estimated 65,000 to around 10,000 in the early 1980s. By 2001, the total African population was estimated at 3,100.
In Kenya alone, the population dropped from 20,000 to less than 300 due to poaching, translating to a loss of 4.5 rhinos a day for 10 years.
There are now an estimated 620 black rhino in Kenya.
“Kenya is the stronghold of the last remaining population of eastern sub-species, holding 88 per cent of the world’s remaining population,” said Mr Vigne.
The conservancy aims to have about 120 black rhinos in the next five years, although according to the CEO, this is dependent on ongoing and regular assessments of forage condition across the entire land area.
Mr Vigne said it is essential to ensure that numbers of any given population are held at some point below their “ecological carrying capacity”.
“Beyond this point, breeding performance tends to deteriorate leading to reduced population growth,” he said.
Ol Pejeta is already looking for new areas in the immediate neighbourhood into which an expanding black rhino population could spread.
“We have high hopes that a new 20,000 acre conservation area recently set aside by the Agricultural Development Corporation on Mutara Ranch on Ol Pejeta’s northern boundary might provide an ideal opportunity in this regard.”