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Rhinos without borders: Release!

Les Carlisle

27th November 2013

In his third and final blog Les Carlisle meets the President of Botswana and witnesses the not-quite-to-plan release of the translocated rhinos into their new habitat ...

I just wish the rhino had read the e-mails I sent them pre-release!

It was such an honour to have His Excellency, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, the President of Botswana himself, coming to receive the rhino on behalf of the people of Botswana. Who would have thought that a conservation project would allow me the privilege of meeting the President of Botswana?

There was an air of excitement as everyone gathered near the boma awaiting his arrival.The landing flare was released and the military helicopter touched down amidst red smoke. The &Beyond Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp choir sang their hearts out and warmly welcomed the President and his entourage and security team.

Once the President arrived, everyone gathered near the rhino boma, the perfect location for our official handover ceremony. Both Joss Kent, &Beyond CEO, and Minister TK Khama, Minster of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, gave heartfelt speeches about the importance of rhino conversation and thanked the Botswana government and citizens for playing an important role in protecting this endangered species from extinction.

When the informal ceremony was over we then took the President to witness the immobilisation of a rhino and the fitting of the last transmitter .Now all six rhino were ready for release into the wild.

After the immobilisation and fitting of the working collars we waited a few days for the rhino to settle down. Tristan Dickerson, our internal satellite specialist, who was kindly loaned to us by &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve to make sure that all the collars were working as they should be, flew up to Botswana and was therefore on site to preside over the release.

Rhino are traditionally very reluctant to leave a boma, especially through a gate that hasn't been open before, and my experience has been that they run as soon as they get halfway through the gate. That was the last thing that we wanted.

Our plan was to try to keep the group together and to release them slowly, let them walk out and stay together. This meant that we completely removed one side of the feeding boma and fed the rhino outside the old fence. It was really a cunning plan, that I was sure would work really well.

I have huge experience with these types of releases, so I was very firm in my predictions. Those predictions, as told to Jason King, &Beyond Director in Botswana, were:

• If the rhino left through a gate they would run and separate
• The water levels were high enough to contain the rhino on the island where we released them, as they never cross deep water
• If they walk out slowly they will probably stay together

What actually happened was:

• The rhino did walk out calmly, four in a group going first, followed by the last two
• The rhino did not even hesitate at the water and crossed relatively deep water
• The rhino walked out together and still split up into three pairs
• All the rhino crossed water to get off the island that they were released on

This has clearly given my ego and my standing in Jason's eyes a real knock. I just wish the rhino had read the e-mails I sent them pre-release so that they knew what was expected of them! It just goes to show that one of the real pleasures of working with wildlife is the constant surprises that you have to deal with. Until next time!

*Since translocation a few weeks ago one of the rhinos has given birth to a healthy calf.

Les Carlisle has spent 20 years with safari specialists andBeyond and is currently the group's Conservation Manager. A true authority when it comes to game capture, Les can be credited with the successful translocation of 40,000 animals in the last 10 years from elephants and buffalo to rhinos and giraffe. His methods have revolutionised wildlife management the world over.


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