The significance of World Rhino Day to Tanzania

rangers and farm workers dehorning a rhino by trimming part of his horn at John Hume’s Rhino Ranch in Klerksdorp, in the North Western Province of South Africa on February 3, 2016. PHOTO|FILE

On September 22 2018, the world is expected to mark what is referred to as the World Rhino Day.

This a day that is reported to have been introduced by WWF, South Africa in 2010 in order to bring awareness to the world over the animal (which is one of the big five) that was on the verge of extinction.

When WWF, South Africa was busy, talking the world into creating and marking the World Rhino Day, the number of rhinos in the world was 30,000.

But since then, the foregoing figure is reported to have gone down quite considerably, through poaching fueled by this stupid belief by Far East Asian men that a portion from the animal’s solitary horn increases one’s libido!

Apart from giving the world the day that forces mankind to sit up and think of ways of saving the rhino, South Africa remains a global leader in the world not only in the protection of rhinos, but also in ensuring the animal’s continued re-production.

Through its well-organized and funded programme, South Africa has also been donating/selling rhinos to countries which had significant rhino populations in the past, but have had the number of their rhinos reduced quite considerably through their poor protection policies.

Until recently, one of such countries which includes Tanzania which by 1976 had over 2,700 rhinos in the Selous Game Reserve before it was inscripted by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 1982.

However, by 2014, the population of the hapless animals was reduced, through industrial poaching to the point that at present there may be less than 30 rhinos in the Selous Game Reserve.

Poaching in the Selous Game Reserve was not confined to rhino per se. It also affected elephants whose population in 1976 was as big the Africa’s present biggest elephant population, a record which is held by Botswana.

According to latest elephant population statistics released in June 1977, Botswana has 130,000 elephants, 20, 000 more than what the Selous Game Reserve alone had.

For information in the public domain indicate that in 1976 when the Tanzania government was in the process of seeking the inscription of the Selous Game Reserve as a World Heritage Site from the Unesco; the Selous Game Reserve alone had been a home to 110,000. elephants.

It was therefore not surprising that during the period under review Tanzania had been a global leader in terms of the number of elephant population she had which had stood at over 150,000.

But today it is a sad narration as the 150,000 plus elephant population has been decimated by over two thirds to bring Tanzania’s present elephant population to slightly over 45,000!

Therefore elephant population in the 54,600 square kilometres Selous Game Reserve had turned the biggest game reserve in the world into a wildness that had the highest concentration of the biggest land mammal in the world.

Actually, it was the highest concentration of elephants in the Selous Game Reserve coupled with the presence of unique features which included, among others, over 2700 rhinos, the biggest number of wild dogs in Africa, the presence of strings of ox-bow lakes and riverine forests that had catapulted the Tanzania government at the time to seek from the Unesco the inscription of Selous Game Reserve as a World Heritage Site.

However, after four decades, the number of both elephants and rhinos in the Selous Game Reserve had been decimated, through industrial poaching by over 90 per cent from 110,000 to about 15,000 and from 2,700 to less than 30 respectively!

Since then, there have been massive efforts, especially the present fifth phase administration and through the assistance of the WWF, Tanzania Country Office and other stakeholders to try to find out whether there are still rhinos in the Selous Game Reserve.

Such efforts are yet to bear any fruits although one thing is crystal clear, rhinos’ droppings have been noted, sometimes fresh. But no one has spotted the animals as they appear to have gone into hiding after being subjected to industrial poaching.

But as Tanzanians join the world in marking the World Rhino Day this week, it’s comforting to note that a private conservation organization, Grumeti Fund, is working on the re-introduction of the Black rhino in Grumeti Reserve located in the western part of the world’s renowned Serengeti National Park.

The rhino re-introduction programme (which has been made possible through the donation of rhinos to the government) will ultimately see the number of rhinos in the area increased to 20.

It is the implementation of programmes such as the one being implemented by the Grumeti Fund that would, ultimately, save the rhino from extinction.

But no matter how hard efforts are made to protect and save rhinos from extinction, such efforts would be meaningless without protecting the animals’ habitat.

Secondly, and more importantly, the government’s efforts in saving the rhino would also be meaningless if such efforts are not supported by private conservationists and other important stakeholders.

The government needs the assistance of private conservationists and other stakeholders because the business of protecting the world’s most sought after animals like elephants and rhinos is extremely difficult, sophisticated and very expensive given the kind of people who go for the lives of such animals.

Allowing serious private conservationists like Grumeti Fund, WWF, Frankfurt Zoological Society and other important, local stakeholders in working closely together, means, among others, sharing information.

It is only through sharing of information, especially between and among foreign and local institutions which have not only the interest of the country’s continued ecosystem at heart, but have also the financial means that Tanzania can save all its wildlife both for posterity and the environment.

Mr Tagalile is a veteran Tanzanian journalist