Kenya is home to around 1,000 rhinos. Some two-thirds of these are critically endangered black rhinos – the rarer of Africa’s two rhino species, with just 5,000 left in the wild, compared to around 20,000 white rhinos.
Rhino poaching has increased dramatically over the last decade, driven by a huge surge in demand for rhino horn in Asia – especially Vietnam, where it's seen as a status symbol. The organised criminal networks that increasingly run the illegal wildlife trade use sophisticated equipment, including helicopters and deadly weapons.
The first line of defence are the heroic park rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service, who risk their lives to keep rhinos safe from poachers. They tirelessly patrol Kenya’s national parks, keeping an eye on each and every rhino, monitoring their movements and looking out for signs of poaching. As well as being dedicated and fearless, the rangers are all highly skilled, training for up to 15 months – something we continue to support.
To do their work effectively, rangers need to know exactly where the rhinos are. One way we’re helping is by supporting efforts to identify and monitor rhinos. These include cutting a distinctive notch into each rhino’s ear (under anaesthetic, of course) so the rangers can more easily tell them apart, and putting microchips into their horns to help rangers keep track of their movements.
We recently supported the Kenyan Wildlife Service to notch the ears and microchip 25 black rhinos in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park – a complex operation that involves spotting the rhino by helicopter, tranquilising it with a dart, then drilling a small, harmless hole into its horn and putting a transmitter inside. The rhinos don’t feel it – their horns are made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails.
If a rhino does get poached, the microchip can help catch the traffickers. For the same reason, we’re taking DNA samples from rhinos to build up a national database. By linking rhino horns seized by police and customs with poached carcasses, this will help Kenya to successfully prosecute and convict wildlife criminals.