Pictures: Black Rhinos Back in Tribal Africa After 25-Year Absence

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Black rhinos were killed off from Samburu country by , but now the community is bringing them back.

Black rhinos are once again roaming the vast rangelands of the Samburu people in northern Kenya, thanks to relocation efforts by the community and conservationists.

The animals had once been a common sight in the semi-arid region, but the last ones were killed by poachers about 25 years ago. Now, a small population is being reestablished there from existing herds in Kenya’s Lewa, Nakuru, and Nairobi National Parks.

Twenty rhinos are being rounded up, shipped in crates, and released within the newly established Sera Community Conservancy in Samburu territory. At least fourteen of the animals have been moved so far, and biologists hope the animals will reproduce and fan out across the dusty landscape.

“Most Kenyans have never seen a live rhino,” says National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale, who has been on the ground documenting the project.

“Some thought they would have spots and others thought their horn would be flexible, like an elephant’s trunk.”

Organizations behind the effort include the governmental Kenya Wildlife Service and nonprofits Northern Rangelands Trust and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

The animals’ new home, Sera Community Conservancy, is locally owned and operated by Samburu people. To deter poachers, the rhinos will be watched over around the clock by the park’s new community rangers, who will receive support from the project’s other partners.

“This will be the first time in East Africa a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of the highly , signaling a mind shift in Kenya’s efforts,” the Northern Rangelands Trust writes on its website.

“Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife but very little has been said about the indigenous communities on the frontlines of the wars,” Vitale adds.

There are about 4,000 to 5,000 black rhinos left in the world, down from 70,000 in the 1960s.

In Touch With Wildlife – In December 2014, Vitale witnessed Samburu warriors from Sera in northern Kenya encounter rhinos for the first time on a visit to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in another part of the region. Rhinos were poached off Samburu land years before – Photograph by Ami Vital
Big Babies – Meeting rhino babies Nicky, Hope, and Kilifi at Lewa, the Samburu warriors “couldn’t wait to have the rhino reintroduced to their land,” says Vitale – Photograph by Ami Vitale
Home on the Range – A black rhino is darted from a helicopter at Lewa Conservancy in northern Kenya in preparation for movement to the newly established Sera Community Conservancy – Photograph by Ami Vitale
Tracking Rhinos – Scientists hope the local Samburu population will both protect the black rhinos in Sera and benefit from their presence through – Photograph by Ami Vitale
Darted – Wildlife managers take great care when darting rhinos, to reduce the chance of injury or overheating. Veterinarians closely monitor the animals throughout the process. Photograph by Ami Vitale
Herding Rhinos – Once the two-ton animals are sedated, vets check their health and prepare them for moving. They place cloth over their eyes to help keep the animals calm. Photograph by Ami Vitale
Heave Ho – Kenya Wildlife Service rangers hoist a sedated rhino in Nakuru National Park in preparation for moving to Sera. The country has an estimated 640 black rhinos left, but managers hope to spur an increase in the population. Photograph by Ami Vitale
Rhino Implants – Wildlife managers implant a transmitter inside a rhino’s horn, a painless process that allows them to track the animal and better deter poachers. Only those with pre-programmed receivers can access the data. Photograph by Ami Vitale
Number Five – This black rhino in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy gets prepped for relocation. The large painted number is designed to be easy to spot from the air for tracking by managers. Photograph by Ami Vitale
Running Free – This rhino runs free from its holding container onto its new home in northern Kenya. “One Samburu man told me this was the coolest day of his life,” says Vitale. Photograph by Ami Vitale

This article was first published by National Geographic on  29 May 2015.


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