After roaming free for millions of years, rhinos may be able to survive in Kenya only if they are protected behind fences in sanctuaries, a charity has said.
Kenya has about 850 rhinos out of about 25,000 in Africa, but more than 50 were killed for their horns last year, up from 30 killings in 2012, and those that remain are increasingly vulnerable to organized poaching gangs, said Christian Lambrechts, director of Nairobi-based conservation group Rhino Ark.
“The situation in the last year has deteriorated. The gangs are extremely well-organized and people from inside the Kenya Wildlife Service have been found to be colluding [with them],” he said. “There is a growing realization that private land holders do not have the ability to safeguard all of them. Rhinos cannot remain in the wild. They must be brought into sanctuaries.”
Lambrechts, a former UN Environment Programme (UNEP) officer, said up to 100 rhino could be eventually relocated in the Aberdare mountains in central Kenya, which has been surrounded by a 402km electrified fence built by Rhino Ark.
However, he said the Aberdare fence, completed in 2009, did not stop poachers killing two out of the eight rhinos living in the hills this year.
“Never have fences been needed more, but they are not enough. The fence has not stopped organized poaching. Nor are sanctuaries the complete answer. Rhinos are being lost from inside them too,” he said.
Unless conservation grapples with issues such as corruption and economic development, it is unlikely to succeed. The past two years had seen benefits for other wildlife in the Aberdare range and improvements in the condition of the forests and the catchment areas of rivers that provide much of the water needed by Kenya’s expanding cities.
According to a UNEP study, the Aberdare fence, which cost US$10.63 million, provides benefits worth US$81.8 million a year for 4 million people who live on the foothills and high slopes of the range, where 30 percent of Kenya’s tea and 70 percent of its coffee is produced.
“Not only have other animals recovered their populations since the fence was completed, but there has been a reduction in illegal felling of timber. Land values have increased, there is less contact between humans and wildlife and so less disease,” Lambrechts said.