By G. M. Wahugu, (Ph.D) and L. K Mureu (Msc) - Earthwatch Scientists
Earthwatch volunteer and community member reseed.
Earthwatch's Saving Kenya’s Black Rhinos conservation research expeditionproject at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy has been making a difference for one of the world's most endangered species for 13 years, since 1999. The year 2011 was one of our best in terms of Earthwatch volunteer participation, especially as compared with the past five years. This high number of volunteers, and ongoing financial support from Earthwatch's donors, allowed the projects' goals to be significantly advanced in 2011.
As they are one of the world’s most endangered species, black rhinos' survival as a species is the single most important objective of this project. Through the data collected by Earthwatch volunteers and the Ol Pejeta Researchers, Reserve managers were able to make sound scientific decisions on the management of the black rhinos' habitat at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2011. Recent research and conservation outcomes include:
A project to replant and speed the botanical recovery of areas that had been highly damaged by elephants was undertaken at the recommendation of this project. As a first step, the area was set aside for remediation, as the Mrera Donga Exclusion Zone. Earthwatch volunteers and Ol Pejeta staff began joint efforts with area school children, and Phase One saw them plant 1000 seedlings of Acacia xanthophlea in the Zone.
A third, "rhino-proof," wildlife dispersal and connectivity corridor was opened in the northern region of the Conservancy. This corridor became effective in December 2011, as confirmed by ongoing camera trap photos from devices set up and monitored by the Ol Pejeta research staff and Earthwatch volunteers. This new Corridor will allow the free and safe movement of all non-rhino wildlife through the Laikipia/Samburu ecosystem, hence easing grazing pressure on the rhinos’ habitat.
Through the Euclea divinorium monitoring project, in 2011 we found that these highly unpalatable green bushes are spreading out into the Black rhinos’ habitat and crowding out their preferred Acacia drepanolobium. We have recommended further monitoring and trials of methods for controlling the spread. A paper on these findings and recommendations will appear in the African Journal of Ecology in 2012.
In 2011, preliminary results on the condition of the black rhino habitat show that there has been a significant growth of the desirable Acacia drepanolobium seedlings, with higher density attributable to the project's prior recommendation that controlled fires no longer be used for landscape management purposes in this important black rhino habitat.
We take pride in the great performance record the black rhino population at Ol Pejeta has in the east African region. The past 10 years have seen the Conservancy’s black rhino population grow by an annual average of 8% above the 6% Kenyan national target. This growth has brought the total number of black rhino here to 87, making Ol Pejeta the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. Thus far in 2012, we’ve already recorded three rhino births--an indicator of improved rangeland conditions.
In 2011 we expanded our community program in collaboration with the Ol Pejata Community Development Dept. and were able to support three are schools by constructing and renovating three classrooms.
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