In their new book, Wildlife Heroes, authors Julie Scardina (SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment) and Jeff Flocken (International Fund for Animal Welfare) spotlight 40 of the world’s leading wildlife conservationists. Prominent on their list is Raoul du Toit, the International Rhino Foundation’s Africa Program Coordinator. Raoul is no stranger to such honors that recognize his commitment to African rhinoceroses, having received the World Conservation Union’s prestigious Sir Peter Scott Award in 2009 and the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011.
Raoul was born and still lives in Zimbabwe, a country that harbors the fourth largest populations of both black and white rhinos. He holds degrees in zoology and environmental studies, but claims to have become involved in rhino conservation somewhat by chance. In 1990, he established the Lowveld Rhino Conservancy Project, which became the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT) a decade later. The LRT focuses its efforts in two privately-managed wildlife conservancies – Save Valley and Bubye Valley – converted cattle ranches that span a combined area of nearly one-and-a-half million acres and harbor several hundred rhinos, both black and white. Following a period of intense poaching in the late 1980s, strategic conservation efforts helped Zimbabwe’s black rhino population rebound in the 1990s. Animals were moved from threatened areas to more secure conservancies, and the results are increasing rhino numbers in the Lowveld region, despite the recent rise in poaching pressure.
Under Raoul’s direction and the auspices of Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Lowveld rhinos are monitored year round. The goal is to identify every animal, using a system of distinct physical characters, tags and transmitters. Local teams of rhino trackers work hand-in-hand with wildlife rangers and veterinarians both to prevent poaching and respond to emergencies. Each year, dozens of rhinos are routinely immobilized for identification purposes or for veterinary treatment, and these procedures involve coordination of teams on foot, all-terrain vehicles, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. In addition, the LRT must also deal occasionally with orphaned rhino calves whose mothers have been killed by poachers. These animals may require rescue and rehabilitation, but are eventually returned to the wild.
As a result of all these efforts, the Bubye Valley Conservancy recently witnessed the birth of the 100th black rhino calf since recovery efforts began there 10 years ago. With the continued success of intensive management efforts, experts estimate that only five years will be necessary for the next one hundred calves to be born.
Raoul relies on a very dedicated team of colleagues to accomplish these results. Australian biologist Natasha Anderson coordinates both monitoring and local education programs, while fellow Zimbabweans Lovemore Mungwashu and Jackson Kamwi serve as operations coordinator and head rhino monitor, respectively. Their collective work in the Lowlveld receives generous support from a variety of sources including government agencies, international foundations, zoological parks, corporations and individuals.
If you’d like to know more about rhino conservation in Zimbabwe, click on http://www.rhinos.org/zimbabwe-lowveld-rhino-program.