Friday, May 23, 2014

Tracking Rhinos and Pythons

Anytime someone visits Africa they always have a favorite animal they want to see.  Many prefer the felines, which tend to be a challenge as there are few cheetahs and leopards anywhere on the continent, and lions can very elusive.  Others, such as my friends, really like the elephants.  But rhinos are one of the most endangered species in Africa.  In fact, it is impossible to find up to date statistics on rhinos because most countries keep those figures a secret due to poaching.

Most people only think of elephants when they hear the word: poaching.  But the truth is that rhino poaching is as much, if not more, of a problem.  In 1900 there were more than half a million black rhinos in Africa.  By 1970 that number had fallen to 70,000 and in 1993 there were only 5,000.  No one is confident of rhino numbers today, but the numbers are likely even lower due to poaching.  Rhino horn can grow up to 8kg and each kilo sells for $50,000.  If someone is suspected of poaching in Africa they can be shot on site, no questions asked.  And this does happen from time to time.  But the poachers are willing to take the risk since the payoff is so high (up to $400,000 in profit from one rhino).  Unfortunately, while technology does allow some parks to keep track of rhinos with microchips, technology can also work against conservation efforts.  Poachers are now using the Internet to track rhinos as GPS information is often available when someone posts a picture online.  In other words, “Look at the rhino I saw today!” translates into a map providing poachers with directions to find that rhino later that same night.

In Botswana we have fewer than 100 rhino and more than half of these are located in one place: the Khama Rhino Sanctuary (KRS).  The Khama Rhino was established in 1992 to protect and breed rhinos.  Since I haven’t had the chance to visit the Rhino Sanctuary previously, I decided to use Ashleigh and Amanda’s visit as an excuse to do so.  The trip proved to be a huge success.  We got to see about a dozen rhino during a game drive, along with plenty of other animals.  There are 47 white rhino and 5 black rhino at KRS:
Thankfully, we also saw zebra at KRS because for whatever reason we did not see them anywhere else during Amanda and Ashleigh’s visit.  I would have felt terrible if they hadn’t seen zebra, especially since it is Botswana’s national animal.  The zebra were right in the middle of the road, so we had a fantastic view:
We also had an up close and personal encounter with a python.  Our guide told us that a python had eaten a goat two days prior to our visit and therefore, “He isn’t hungry, so it is safe for you to get very close to him.  We are going to track him today!”  And track him we did.  Normally, the rule is hard and fast: NEVER get out of your vehicle in a national park with wild animals.  But our guide told us to, so we did.  He saw the marks which indicated the python had been on the move, so we got out of the vehicle and tracked it.  In case you are curious how far away the safari truck was, here is a point of comparison (the game drive vehicle is the little white dot in the distance):
And here is the python, peacefully sleeping after his meal.  Sorry, this is a tough picture, you have to look through the grass and you will see it curled up:


  1. Rhinos and Zebras and Pythons - oh my! Very interesting info on the rhinos. I didn't know that. You guys are wearing gloves and fleece!? is it cold??

  2. It is winter time here in the southern hemisphere! Plus you take game drives when it is cooler- early morning and late afternoon, dawn and dusk basically, so it was probably about 40F. We were also all bundled up in blankets because you are sitting in the back of open vehicles, so no protection from the wind when the air is already really cold.