The WWF says its Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) is one of their most successful species conservation projects ever. This is welcome news in a time of relentless poaching.
BRREP was established in 2003 by veterinarian and project leader Dr Jacques Flamand. Over the past 16 years it has established 11 black rhino populations in private and community reserves in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Limpopo. They were created from founder black rhino populations translocated from provincial parks in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The project is central to the goal of increasing the population growth of black rhinos, which are listed as critically endangered, with only 2 000 left in South Africa. Black rhinos once numbered more than 100 000 across sub-Saharan Africa, but from the 1960s poaching for their horns decimated their numbers to less than 3%.
The WWF Nedbank Green Trust is supporting the next stage of rhino population management at BRREP through a programme that started in 2017 called Black Rhino Conservation Management Through Science-based Support.
‘Through this project 90% of the DNA samples from all the rhinos in the 11 BRREP populations have already been collected,’ says Flamand. ‘This enables us to make informed management decisions about when to swap out dominant males or their offspring, and when new genes need to be brought in to maintain genetic diversity.’ It is also a key tool in rhino horn crime-fighting and anti-poaching work.
The DNA samples are taken at BRREP sites whenever black rhinos are immobilised for medical checks, horn removals or translocations. Another four parks managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife have been added to the project for DNA profiling.