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World Wildlife Day: checking up on my favourite species

 

Today is World Wildlife Day and this is a chance for us to reflect on the varied forms of fauna and flora. Having spent some time in the Masai Mara, I had a chance to catch up with my favourite species and to reflect on what we are working on to protect them.

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I realise that not many people are lucky enough to visit the Mara and I consider myself very privileged to work near to and have access to this iconic part of the world. My favourite time of year in the Mara is January and February between the two rainy seasons, the grasslands are in their full glory and there usually aren’t too many tourists around.

The park is in theory at its quietest, but there is always something to see. The productivity of the system is amazing with lots of animals all around and that’s aside from the wildebeest migration!

As we travel through the park we see a lot of elephants and plains animals like zebra, gazelle, topi buffalo and more – and we are fortunate enough to see lion and hyena cubs. But my highlight was a black rhino with her calf, which we had recently ear notched in December last year to help monitor and protect this endangered species.

Rhino numbers are extremely low. At the beginning of 2013 there were 25’000 rhinos in Africa – 20,000 white and 5’000 black rhinos. We try to monitor rhinos as individuals, as every rhino is important. To help us monitor them and minimise disturbance we notch the rhinos ears to make a unique pattern so we can identify each rhino from a distance.

A rhino's horn being notched, Masai Mara, Kenya. Copyright:WWF-UK Media CentreA rhino’s horn being notched, Masai Mara, Kenya. © Greg Armfield WWF-UK

With almost 650 rhinos in Kenya and with poaching the way it is currently, it’s important that we regularly find the rhinos and check on them. I am reminded of just how fragile an existence these animals have, as we got a message about a recent poaching incident in Nairobi national park. Looking through the Binoculars at these two rhinos it’s hard to understand why people would want to kill them, but we know that many people do.

The sad thing is that now it’s not just about how we keep them alive and continue to rebuild the populations, but how we catch the poachers and middle men when the rhinos are dead. Each of these rhinos has a microchip in their horn. If people are caught with these rhinos’ horns, we will be able to trace it back to the rhino in question. The Kenyan government is making great efforts to protect its rhinos and elephants through not just working to improve the number of rangers on the ground and their equipment, but also through strengthening the wildlife act to make sure that the punishment fits the crime.

As rhino horn increases in value so too does the ruthlessness of the poachers, with ex-soldiers and professional criminals becoming the main poachers. This makes protecting rhinos a dangerous job! Even before the recent crisis rhinos were conservation dependant (you only find rhinos in conservation areas), but this is testing us to the extreme.

Park ranger looking to the sunset, CameroonA park guard contemplates the scene where elephant bones and carcasses litter the ground after the slaughter of elephants in Cameroon. © WWF-Canon / Green Renaissance

WWF works on rhino conservation across Africa and Asia, but Kenya is where our rhino work started more than 50 years ago, since then we have stopped the decline and more than doubled the population, this is no mean feat. However, we have to step things up once again, working to support the Kenyan Wildlife Service and other partners to implement the Kenyan Rhino Strategy.

Illegal wildlife trade threatens more than wildlife but we regularly get reports of poachers of rangers getting killed, the people now attracted to it threatens to disrupt local communities and nations. We need to stop this.

On World Wildlife Day , spare a thought for our rhinos, and if you can please help our rhino campaign to secure the critical funds for Kenya’s black rhinos.

Every time I drive away from these rhinos, I am mindful that as far as the rhinos are concerned they will never know the efforts people go to, to protect them and for that I am thankful.

Thanks for your support, the rhino will never know it but the field rangers and rhino wardens are very grateful for your help.

What are you doing for World Wildlife Day? Leave a comment below.

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