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Good News - Rhino Population Increases in Zimbabwe

Harare - THE rhino population in Zimbabwe has continued to increase recording a 10 percent annual growth despite rampant poaching activities in the country.

In a statement last week, the WWF project executive for the Lowveld Rhinocerous Project, Mr Raoul du Toit, paid tribute to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and its partners in their efforts to conserve the endangered animal.

He said the WWF in collaboration with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, with funding provided by other partners and agencies was now stepping up its drive to protect the country's black rhinos.

"Through the Lowveld Rhino Project we intensified monitoring of rhinos using skilled trackers and radiotelemetry.

"We moved rhinos from unsafe areas, de-horned some of the animals at most risk and collaborated in setting up rapid reaction units, community awareness programmes and gave technical support to develop options for wildlife-based land reform," he said. Despite the effects of poaching, this holistic approach has enabled the lowveld rhino populations to achieve some of the highest growth rates ever recorded, up to 10 percent per year.

Two of the conservancy established populations have surpassed the 100 mark.

Currently, the lowveld boasts of 375 black rhinos -- about 10 percent of the world's wild population.

The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority's public relations manager, Retired Major Edward Mbewe, said the authority had stepped up efforts to protect the rhino in Zimbabwe.

"Our conservation programmes have been good and we have since intensified the programmes through the Rhinocerous Management Strategy with the creation of intensive protection zones," he said.

Rtd Major Mbewe added that the authority had put in place 24-hour patrols in these zones to curb poaching and people were not allowed in these areas.

He said the authority has embarked on ear notching for easy identification while the use of monitors had also improved the tracking of the endangered animals.

He however paid tribute to the WWF and other stakeholders for providing the necessary funding for their conservatory activities.

"Most of these activities are very expensive, for example, we need between US$1 000 to US$1 200 to hire a helicopter used in the operations and these organisations have been quite helpful," he said.

Rtd Major Mbewe said the authority had discovered that poachers had stopped coming from neighbouring countries with more locals involved in the illegal activities.

"After this realisation we have intensified educating communities neighbouring these conservation areas through the establishment of extension and interpretation services," he said.

He said the authority also believed that once people understood how they could benefit from conservation programmes then the communities would participate in protecting the animals.

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