The black rhino
Starting out with 15 black rhinos in 1984 as the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary, Lewa's rhino population has since risen steadily, making the Conservancy the pioneer rhino conservation success story in Kenya and East Africa.
Over the years, 20 others have been moved to restock previously inhabited areas as well as introduce the species to new suitable and secure habitats.
Rhinos in the country are managed as a metapopulation distributed in parks, reserves and private conservancies. Today, these prehistoric pachyderms are facing two enormous challenges - new horrifying poaching levels and the availability of adequate habitats, with poaching obviously being the most detrimental. The hefty price paid for rhino horn in the black market today has attracted international criminal gangs, turning poaching into a well-funded and sophisticated activity.
In response to these challenges, there are six strategic objectives in the Kenya Black Rhino Strategic and Management Plan, with security and expansion of their habitat receiving the greatest priority. In line with these strategies, Lewa moved 11 black rhinos in 2013 to the contiguous Borana Conservancy to introduce the species where it had long been absent, and in 2014, 10 rhinos were moved to the Northern Rangelands Trust's Sera Community Conservancy.
Lewa and Borana create 93,000 acres of prime black rhino habitat
In September 2014, Lewa and Borana took another bold move and begun to remove the fence separating the two areas to create one conservation landscape for the benefit of the rhino. With the fence removed, this landscape now tops 93,000 acres and is one of the biggest private rhino reserves in Kenya. By January 2017, the landscape had a combined black rhino population of 83 as well as 74 white rhinos, which constitute 15% of Kenya's entire rhino population.
This unprecedented step by Lewa and Borana was the first time in Kenya that two privately owned and run organisations had undertaken such a move for the benefit of one of the country’s most threatened species.
Rhinos return to Samburu
In 2015, critically endangered black rhino were reintroduced to a native land that they had last inhabited over 30 years ago. The move of the rhino to NRT's Sera Community Conservancy signalled a shift in Kenyan conservation, with the people of Sera becoming the first community to be responsible for the care and protection of an endangered species.
Click here to learn more about this historic translocation.
The white rhino
74 southern white rhinos also live on the Conservancy.
The white rhino’s name is said to be a mistranslation between the Dutch and Afrikaans words meaning wide. As opposed to the hooked lip of the black rhino (used to pluck leaves and fruit from trees), the white rhino has a wide, squared-off lip for grazing along the ground like a lawnmower.
The white rhino was introduced in Kenya after the decimation of the native black rhino population as a result of poaching. Even though not a native species, it has thrived in Kenya, and the country currently hosts about 400 individuals.
Lewa's success in anti-poaching
Sadly the illegal killing of wildlife continues to plague the continent, putting immense pressure on conservancies and other wildlife areas with rhino and elephant populations. As an exception however, Lewa's efforts in gathering of intelligence, increased use of technology, staff motivation and most importantly, greater investment to our neighbouring communities paid off and in the past three years, the Conservancy has not lost any rhinos to poachers.
What next for the rhino?
To ensure the survival of this iconic species, many agree the following steps should be taken:
- Concerted stakeholder involvement to help reduce the illegal demand for rhino horn through awareness creation to the consumers
- Elevated protection and security
- Maintenance and expansion of suitable and secure habitats.