31 May 2005

Black rhino gets new lease on life in KwaZulu Natal

A second block of land to give the black rhino more space to range in has been chosen in KwaZulu-Natal, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife said on Monday.

The Zululand Rhino Reserve was approved as the second such site by Ezemvelo's board on Friday.

It said the 17 000ha area in northern KwaZulu-Natal consisted of 12 adjoining properties which had dropped their fences to create a haven for a significant black rhino population.

A founder population of between 17 and 20 black rhino from the province's wildlife reserves would be released into the block later this year.

Ezemvelo said the aim of the black rhino range expansion project was to increase the numbers of black rhino by increasing the land available for their conservation, thereby reducing pressure on existing reserves and providing new territory in which they could breed quickly.

This was done by identifying large pieces of land with an ecological carrying capacity of 50 or more black rhino on which a founder population could be released. Neighbouring landowners usually had to remove internal fences, thus consolidating smaller pieces of land into more ecologically viable blocks and benefiting many species besides black rhino.

World Wildlife Fund project leader Dr Jacques Flamand said the success of the first release of 15 black rhino in 2004 at Mun-ya-Wana Game Reserve had given project leaders much confidence.

"Those animals have settled extremely well into their new home. There have been no losses through fights or accidents and matings have been observed so we're looking forward to the prospect of lots of calves," he said in a statement.

Initially, the focus of the project is on finding suitable sites within KwaZulu-Natal. Once these have been saturated, the project will look at the other provinces.

Black rhino became critically endangered after a poaching wave in the 1970s and 1980s wiped out 96 percent of Africa's wild black rhino population in 20 years.

Ezemvelo said that at the lowest point, there were just 2 500 black rhino left. There were now about 3 600 of them.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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