44 Travel Zambia November 2008 My alarm clock this morning was the plaintive squeak of a little rhino. All things are relative of course: even a ' little' rhino weighs more at birth than most mere mortals can lift, and this was a sub- adult sized hulk that woke me up. But on a rhino scale, she's a baby! Her name is Intanda, which means ' Star' in Chinyanja, and she is the last of the newly- delivered batch of black rhinos left in the bomas. Her journey to North Luangwa National Park ( NLNP) in Zambia has been a long one – the culmination of a story that began before she was born, and one that involves governments across Africa and the hard work of many, many dedicated people. Throughout the late 1970s and ' 80s a poaching onslaught devastated North Luangwa National Park ( NLCP). Black rhinos, valued for their lucrative horn, were hit particularly hard. Efforts to save this threatened pachyderm were in vain: as a designated ' Wilderness Area', North Luangwa received little protection, and its rhinos – along with the rest of the 2,000- strong population that inhabited the Luangwa Valley – were soon wiped out. The North Luangwa Conservation Project was launched in 1986, with the support of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, in order to support the local Zambia Wildlife Authority ( ZAWA) in its conservation programme. Renewed efforts and increased funding soon allowed more scouts to be recruited and trained, and poaching pressure started to diminish. Wildlife numbers began to recover, with the recovery of elephant populations, in particular, being a sure sign that the worst was over. The tide was beginning to turn. Central to many a conservation initiative lies the belief that if an area is made sufficiently secure it should be possible to reintroduce a highly endangered species, such as the black rhino. Furthermore, by returning such a species to its former range, one ensures a long- term commitment to security that will benefit not only the species in question but also the entire ecosystem on which it relies. Of course, none of this can be achieved without the support of local communities Above: The waiting will soon be over for this latest arrival in the bomas. Right: The rhinos undergo periodic veterinary checks as they adapt to their new life in the wild. All pics by nLCPnLCP The dilemmas of a horn Treats such as sweet potatoes and sugar cane sticks often helped encourage good behaviour. 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of a bleak moment in Zambia's history. In 1998 the black rhino was declared ' nationally extinct'. One of the Big Five was gone forever – or so it seemed at the time. But, with the help of the North Luangwa Conservation Project, times have since changed. Claire Lewis, project leader since 2007, reports on an exciting success story.
November 2008 Travel Zambia 45 Wildlife focus and, in this case, ZAWA. The practicalities of such a demanding project are an immense undertaking for a parastatal like ZAWA, but, in partnership with the NLCP, its achievements have been impressive. In 2003, two years after the initial proposal was tabled, the first five black rhinos were flown to a tiny ( all things are relative!) bush airstrip in NLNP. In 2006 ten more arrived and in May 2008 we received another five. The aim was to repopulate the park using a minimum ' founder' group of animals in order to ensure the best chance of survival and genetic diversity. The animals were all donated in a three- way initiative between the Governments of Zambia, Namibia and South Africa, in which the South African National Parks, North West Parks Board and East Cape Parks Board all played important roles. The process sounds simple in theory. The rhinos were captured about six to eight weeks prior to flying to Zambia. During this critical period they were ' boma trained' by specialists and introduced to their transport crates ( just like the ones oranges come in, but stronger!). A boma is a large holding pen, and a wild- caught rhino doesn't always take kindly to being confined. But black rhinos are surprisingly good in captive situations and often settle much faster than their white rhino cousins – contrary to their relative natures in the wild. Treats such as sweet potatoes and sugar cane sticks often helped encourage ' good behaviour' and the rhinos were quick to catch on. In the meantime, however, there was a frantic scramble to ensure everything else was in place for a trouble- free journey north to Zambia. Paperwork, planes, dignitaries, food, bomas, fences, reserve airstrips ( in case a freak rain storm wrecks the first one), health certificates, practice runs, shopping, gear – even loo roll: all had to be organised, with the nearest shop over 300km away and no telephone to speak of. Needless to say huge favours were called upon, and a great deal of gratitude is owed to many people for helping us through those final few days. Once it arrived, each rhino was given time to recover from the journey and get used to life north of the Limpopo. Since then, one by one, they have all been released to walk free on Zambian soil. All except Intanda. At two years she's the youngster of the group, so she has been kept for the longest to get her in the best condition before release. As I type this, Intanda is lying quietly in her boma. Little does she know that under tonight's full moon it will be her ' star' turn to walk out of the door to a new life in North Luangwa. Black rhino fact file Total African population: ± 3,600 Subspecies found in NLNP: Diceros bicornis minor Weight of adult male: up to 1500kg Speed: 55kph Lifespan in the wild: 30 years Horns: two, made of keratin ( as in fingernails) Feeding behaviour: mainly a solitary nocturnal browser Gestation: 16 months, producing a single 30– 40kg calf Predators: man, lion or hyena occasionally take young Conservation history: population in 19th Century numbered ' several hundred thousands'; fell rapidly during 20th Century, plummeting in 1970s– 1980s; poaching fuelled by market for horn, as dagger handles in Yemen and traditional medicines in Far East; poaching remains the greatest threat. 1986: NLCP begins conducting large mammal census surveys in NLNP 1998: black rhino declared ' presumed nationally extinct' 1998: Frankfurt Zoological Society signs agreement with Government of Zambia on NLCP management in NLNP 2001: SADC Regional Rhino Conservation Programme assessment finds NLNP to be suitable for the reintroduction of minimum 20 animals May 2003: five black rhino arrive from South Africa Early 2005: first Zambian- bred black rhino calf born for nearly two decades June 2006: ten black rhinos arrive from South Africa May 2008: five more black rhinos arrive from South Africa N orth Luangwa rhino reintroduction: key dates