Tracking black rhinos in Tsavo

by ZSL on

ZSL’s Kenya team partnered with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Tsavo Trust to track and capture black rhinos in Tsavo to fit them with transmitters. This exercise is a crucial activity of the Rhino Impact Investment (RII) Project’s pilot and will allow KWS to improve monitoring standards for this critically endangered species.  

Rhino tagging  in the Tsavo Conservation Area
Sedated rhino having transmitter fitted and paint marked so easily identifiable from the helicopter

After many months of careful logistical planning, the mission took seven days to complete, using a helicopter and small plane to spot the rhinos in the thick savannah bush and woodlands of Tsavo. Once a rhino was spotted, the highly skilled vets from KWS used the helicopter to get close enough to safely dart the animal. The ground team were then alerted to its exact location so that they could find the rhino once the sedative had taken effect.

The vets worked quickly to ear notch the rhino (a unique pattern on each rhino’s ear so they can be easily identified) and attach a transmitter. The rhino was then given a reversal drug to bring them round and the team had 30 seconds to get back into their vehicle before the animal was back on its feet and off into the wilderness.

The transmitters will allow the rhinos to be tracked regularly by the dedicated rhino monitoring team. This will help significantly improve the monitoring of this population in a difficult and vast terrain, enabling patrols to become more strategic and increase security. It will allow ZSL and KWS, and ultimately the RII Project, to measure the growth rate of the rhino population in the park and inform biological management decisions for the species moving forward. 

Chopper Search in the Tsavo Conservation Area

During the mission, the team were excited to find two new young rhino calves amongst the population being tagged and we look forward to following their progress over the coming months.

Chris Gordon, ZSL’s Kenya Country Manager, said: “The operation was a great success, thanks to the dedication of all the team members and the professionalism of the KWS vet team. Historically, Tsavo had the largest black rhino population on the planet; these transmitters will ensure that the rhinos are regularly seen and well protected, as this important population continues to recover.” 

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