Preparation for the Release
At the start of this week the Ol Pejeta Conservancy was once again host to old and new friends from the UK and the Czech Republic. Our guests had no time to relax as we began an action-packed week to prepare the new northern white rhino breeding area for the eventual release of Sudan, Nijan and Fatu.
With the near completion of the 700-acre area fence came the next step of clearing the area of other animals so as to give the northern white rhinos the optimum conditions to thrive. The Security team, the Logistics team and rhino keepers worked together to drive out the competitive grazers in the area. After surveillance by air, we knew that there were about 30 giraffes and a large herd of zebras that needed to be gently pushed out through a small 200m gap left in the fence. After the animals were successful driven out, the rhino area is still left with a large number of non predatory species including Thomson’s gazelle, grant gazelle, impala and warthog.
The New Capture Truck
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the proud owner of a brand new capture truck, generously donated by UK-based Ladyroyd Garage Ltd and Rydam Universal Ltd. After watching a translocation documentary featuring Ol Pejeta the two companies designed a vehicle that would work more efficiently for the capture of animals, in particular rhinos.
The Easter weekend was spent training the Ol Pejeta staff on the mechanics of the truck so on Monday morning work moving the chosen rhinos could begin. Ol Pejeta would like to take this opportunity to thank David and John from Ladyroyd Garage Ltd and Rydam Universal Ltd for the extremely generous donation and their valuable time over this week. Being the Largest Black Rhino Sanctuary in East Africa the truck will be used for years to come and will facilitate the move and safety of hundreds of rhinos.
The objective this week was to move three southern white bulls from Ol Pejeta to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to avoid competition with Suni and Sudan, and to move six southern white rhino into the new breeding boma to help create a social structure for the northern whites. We also took the opportunity to dehorn all the tranquilised animals for security purposes. Reunited with the whole committee that made the northern white translocation possible, we had the most competent team on the ground. Hamish Curry and Pete Morkel from Back to Africa, Dana Holeckova from Dur Kralove Zoo, Berry White, Ian Craig and the Kenya Wildlife Service vet Matthew Mutinda, worked tirelessly with the capture team from Ol Pejeta to complete this objective
The first translocation saw Ian, Matthew, Pete and John – head of Capture at Ol Pejeta – head off on foot to look for our first southern white bull. Tracking the animal using the Supercub aircraft took longer than expected but once darted was successfully captured and hauled onto the truck. The recent rains on Ol Pejeta slowed up the process when the truck temporarily got stuck in the mud on the way to Lewa. These events meant that this rhino was the only one to be captured on the first day. It was a slower start then the capture team would have liked to the week but it allowed a gradual learning curve for all on the new equipment and team.
The second day was action packed with a 5am start to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to capture and translocate a 3 year old southern white female. With a smooth capture and with the entourage back on Ol Pejeta by 11.30 am, we kept Tauwa in her crate under the shade in the new enclosure while the team went off to dart another southern white female on Ol Pejeta. After the successful darting, dehorning and capture of the southern white the crates were placed next to each other at a central release point in the new area – everybody but Matthew, Pete and a member of the capture team left the area to ensure minimal stress and ease of release for the animals. It was great to see that the two girls paired up and followed each other happily into the thicker bush together.
In the afternoon the team went off to capture a female southern white and her young bull calf, this was ambitious as the light was beginning to fade. It became clear that without the use of this new capture truck we would have never been able to complete the four translocations and releases in one day. As it was the final release of the day of the mother and calf, was carried out just after dark and saw the two trot off together to join the other two females in their new home.
The Northern Whites
Sudan, Suni, Fatu and Nijan are blissfully unaware of all the preparation that is taking place for their impending release. Enjoying their daily outings together in their camp they are looking as healthy as ever. It has been a warm reunion to see Pete, Hamish and Dana all observing the animals since their last meeting a few months past. The release date for these three animals is still to be confirmed but we are looking at mid-April and will keep you all posted!