The African Black Rhino is a magnificent animal whose ancestors have roamed the earth for 60 million years. Now, tragically, this mighty creature has come dangerously close to the end of the trail. Only a few decades ago there were still perhaps as many as 65,000 black rhino in Africa. At the end of 2018, approximately 5,620 were left and every survivor lives with a price on its head. The subspecies found in Mkomazi, the Eastern black rhino Diceros bicornis michaeli, has been classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, meaning they “face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.”
The rhino's downfall has been brought about by the value of its horn. In some Arab countries these horns are carved into dagger handles. In Yemen, a single horn can fetch up to $85,000 on the black market. The largest and most consistent demand comes from Asia, especially Taiwan, South Korea and mainland China, whose traditional pharmacists promote powdered rhino horn as an analgesic for a large range of ailments, or where it is preserved whole and displayed as a status symbol. There it is worth more than twice its weight in gold. Most, if not all, horn from Kenya and Tanzania is believed to be shipped to Vietnam and China, via routes as varied as Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
The serious poaching of rhino began in Kenya during the early 1970s. From there, like a deadly epidemic, it swept through Tanzania, then into Zambia and Zimbabwe and deep down into Namibia. Uganda's rhinos were wiped out during Idi Amin's regime, when the protection of game reserves collapsed. During this time, rhino in Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic also fell to poachers.
Today, wildlife managers are moving rhino like threatened pieces in a chess game. The safest environment for these animals is now inside a securely fenced and guarded sanctuary of the kind in the Mkomazi.
In the late 1960s, as many as 250 Eastern Black Rhino (D.b.michaeli) roamed wild in Mkomazi. By the late 1980s there were none left. But with the help of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trusts, the Black Rhino has returned to Mkomazi.
In 1997, after five years of development and construction of the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and careful planning between the trusts, the South African National Parks and the Tanzanian Government, the first translocation of four East African Black Rhino (D.b.michaeli) from South Africa to Mkomazi took place. In 2001, a further four rhino were translocated from South Africa to Mkomazi. The eight resident rhino settled down. Since these first translocations from South Africa, the rhino population has grown, through births and further reintroductions from European zoos (Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic – four in 2009 and one in 2016 - and Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in the UK – three in 2012). Separation fences were constructed within the sanctuary to facilitate the introduction of the original resident rhino to the newcomers. Mkomazi holds on of the largest of Tanzania’s five D.b.michaeli populations. The Sanctuary is therefore an integral part of Tanzania’s efforts to breed up and recover numbers of black rhino. A well-established sanctuary such as this is important in security the future of not just Tanzania’s black rhino, but also for its contribution to the survival of the Eastern black rhino.
June 2009: Three black rhinos (subspecies Diceros bicornis michaeli) were donated to the Director of Wildlife, under the care of the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary and the Trust, by the Dvur Kralove Zoo, Czech Republic
Discussing the rhino conservation work with Dr Allan Kijazi, former Conservation Commissioner of TANAPA, Rosemary Senyamule Sitake, District Commissioner Same, Bernard Mchomvu- Chairman WPTF
Rhino trackers Emmanuel Metemi and Godfrey Mbise