Imire,Zimbabwe. The rhinos.

Sad fact: A rhino horn can be worth over £400,000 on the black market! I will never understand why something that is the same substance as our fingernails is so sought after in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam. Rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine, but increasingly common is its use as a status symbol to display success and wealth. It makes my blood boil and the rhino below is distinctly fed up with the situation too:(

Imire is internationally renowned for its black rhino breeding and release programme. In the 1980’s, during a period of Zimbabwe’s worst poaching, rhino numbers plummeted from 10,000 to less than 1,000 in just a few years. That figure is devastating. The Department of National Parks & Wildlife moved the remaining wild rhino into the custodianship of private conservancies, named Intensive Protection Zones (IPZ).

In 1987 Imire was named an IPZ and awarded custodianship of 7 orphaned black rhino by the Zimbabwean government and began a pioneering black rhino breeding programme. The first rhino on Imire were between four and six months old and each of the calves were hand-reared on specialised formula milk for eight years. Below we have Ntombi and her baby Masimba. (I think!)

These original rhinos bred very successfully, with 15 births in less than 20 years – a record given the rhino’s notoriously slow speed of reproduction. By 2006 Imire had successfully released 13 individuals back into the Zambezi Valley in northern Zimbabwe. However, due to increasingly sophisticated illegal wildlife poaching and the increased value of rhino horn in Eastern markets, rhino numbers are once again dropping alarmingly. Until (or unless) uncontrolled poaching within National Parks abates, Imire has resolved to protect and secure their adult rhino onsite, rather than releasing them into the wild. Once they are released onto the relative safety of Imire, they become less habituated to human contact as they then have no daily interactions or supplement feeding. 24 hour armed guards remain with them, but at a distance.

Above is one of the rangers with Murwi, the Dutch Shepherd Anti-Poaching Dog. She originally came from Wales, and whilst doing a little background reading about her, I came across this:  “Murwi was deployed to the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservancy in April 2018. This is the front line of Anti Poaching canine units, not just to deter would be poachers in poaching hot-spots, but to act as sworn protector and defender of a world renowned White and Black Rhino breeding programme.” That description of ‘sworn protector and defender ‘conjures up an image of a cartoon superpower K9 wearing a cape! She seemed calm enough each time we saw her, but she only has to look at you and you just know you don’t want to get too close. In fact we were specifically warned not to get anywhere near her and as much as I love dogs, she scares me! She’s already successfully tracked and apprehended a poacher and I’m sure the word is out locally about her, which hopefully means she’s a good deterrent as well as being able to do her job of tracking down a poacher if required.

There were quite a few mornings when we were able to feed the rhinos in the bomas before they were let out. The skin on the side of their mouths is surprisingly soft and they definitely enjoyed the pellets we fed to them. Do you ever have a bad hair day like the one below?

In the photo below, I am actually inside one of the bomas for my protection and the rhinos are outside, as these particular ones wander freely on the reserve. (Accompanied at a distance of course by a couple of armed guards.)

One morning we were walking behind two of the rhinos when we stopped so that the guard could give us some information about them. It was a really misty morning, and by the time we set off again they’d totally disappeared into the mist! It took us at least 45 minutes of searching and trying to find their tracks to locate them again, by which time the mist had cleared and the sun had come out.

A lone tree was found on our search for the rhinos. A lone tree is always good for a photograph, especially if it’s an umbrella thorn acacia in Africa 🙂

That’s all for now. My next post will be about the other volunteering duties and what else we did during our two weeks at Imire.