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BLACK RHINO RESEARCH

(Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Reserve, South Africa)

The Black Rhino Research Programme is primarily based in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park in South Africa, a 96,000 hectare reserve which holds approximately 10% of the world's black rhino population as well as all of Africa's "Big 5" wildlife - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and white rhino.  

 

Black rhinoceros are a critically endangered species and their conservation in the wild requires a strong scientific basis in ecology and behavior.  Research primarily focuses on (1) how individual black rhinoceros respond to capture and release and (2) how the populations of black rhinoceros from which individuals are removed, and into which others are released, are influenced by those removals and re-introductions. Our hope is that a better understanding of these aspects will help population managers enhance black rhinoceros breeding and survival in the wild.

 

The Black Rhino Research Programme collaborates with the World Wildlife Funds (WWF-SA) Black Rhinoceros Range Expansion Project in the re-introduction of black rhinoceros to other reserves in the region. In 2004 and 2005 we were part of the translocation of 15 and 21 black rhinoceros, respectively, to Phinda Resource Reserve and Zululand Rhino Reserve.  We anticipate similar translocations to other reserves in 2006. Our work is a collaborative venture between several South African and international organisations and our research benefits from financial support from the San Diego Zoo, Rhinoceros & Tiger Conservation Fund of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the International Rhino Foundation.

 

The research is conducted by a team of research assistants and students from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Witswatersrand in South Africa, and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The volunteer programme was established to assist those students and research assistants in conducting their day-to-day research activities. Our hope is that the assistance and additional support that volunteers bring will ensure the continuance of the research programme so that it can make a longer-term and more considerable contribution to black rhinoceros conservation. Our most important activities currently being conducted are:

 

Donor population dynamics Each year rhinoceros are removed from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park for re-introduction to other reserves. This helps enhance breeding in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park by preventing over-population. However population managers are concerned that removals may have other negative consequences for the habitat and population that need to be taken into account when designing removals regimes.  Each year we install radio transmitters in the horns of black rhinoceros and monitor their behaviour and movements. The information gathered will help us understand how the removal of rhino from the population influences its breeding performance. 

 

Re-introduction population dynamics Each year black rhinoceros captured in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park are moved to new reserves in an effort to re-introduce them to their former range and contribute to the species recovery. We install radio transmitters in each rhino captured and monitor them after they are released. We are particularly interested in how the behaviour of black rhino might be managed by spreading their dung at the release site before they arrive as a way of reducing conflict between the rhino and the time it takes them to establish themselves.

 

Stress, breeding and behaviour during translocation Before captured wild black rhinoceros are released into new reserves they necessarily must spend a period of time in captivity. The rhino are held in strong enclosures called boma for 2 - 8 weeks. Most regard this time as important to their successful release because it provides an opportunity for managers to improve their body condition by feeding them high-quality food and gives the rhino time to adjust to the stress of capture. Nevertheless, captivity may generate a physiological stress response in black rhino that suppresses their reproductive potential. We are investigating the behaviour and physiology of black rhinoceros in boma to measure the implications that temporary captivity has for breeding and determine the ideal boma time before release.

 

Volunteer Work

All volunteer activities support the objectives of the Black Rhino Research Programme. Volunteers will be working under the supervision of research assistants from South African universities, studying aspects of black rhino ecology and behaviour that are important to their conservation. The project provides volunteers with a hands-on experience of in-the-field conservation research in a region rich with the wildlife, natural landscapes and culture of southern Africa. It will be an opportunity to learn and expand your life-experience beyond what would be possible as a tourist while making a valuable contribution to our understanding and conservation of black rhinoceros.  You will gain a practical experience and up-to-the-minute insight of conservation research in action.

 

Likely field activities may include:

-Radio tracking black rhino to determine their locations and movements throughout the reserves

-Evening observations at waterholes to monitor black rhino social and spatial behaviour

-Bush-walking surveys of vegetation and rhino tracks/ signs

-Participating in rhinoceros capture, sampling, the installation of horn implant transmitters in their horns and eventual release

 

Black rhinoceros research is a serious activity and viewing this magnificent animal in the wild is normally a rare, and potentially dangerous, activity. Black rhinoceros are renowned for being aggressive towards people.  It cannot be guaranteed that volunteers will view black rhinoceros on foot in the wild.  Nevertheless, some volunteers, depending on the time of their visit, do get to see rhinoceros when they are captured, in boma or being released.  Although black rhino are the focus of the programme, there will be many opportunities during fieldwork to view Africa's other wildlife and interact with local people working with wildlife.

 

Other Activities

Our field sites are within 2 hours drive of several towns including Mkuzi, Mtubatuba and Richards Bay but there is no public transport to town.  Volunteers will have an opportunity to visit town approximately once every 2 weeks in coordination with trips to collect food and supplies. The nearest towns are sometimes small but have all the usual amenities, including medical doctors, supermarkets, internet cafes and restaurants. Our field sites are near the world famous surfing beaches of South Africas eastern coast on the Indian Ocean, St Lucia world heritage sites, the heartland of the Zulu culture, and the superb Drakensberg Mountains.

 

Field Conditions

The field conditions vary a lot depending on the different sites. Sometimes volunteers will sleep in a farm-house or hut/cabin but volunteers must also be prepared to live in a tent. Nevertheless, all sites have modern, but basic, communal kitchen and bathroom facilities. The climate at the field sites can be varied. Volunteers should not underestimate how hot and cold South Africa can be both warm and cool clothing is required.

 

In the spirit of field camp life volunteers will be expected to share in the maintenance and domestic activities in camp. That means contributing to cooking and cleaning.  We have found that volunteers who are prepared to share in the day-to-day domestic activities of the group have a richer experience and positive interaction with their student and researcher hosts. Activities back-at-camp will include sharing in cooking, cleaning and equipment repair and maintenance, and data capture on field laptop computers. 

 

Volunteers are required to sign indemnity forms acknowledging and accepting the consequences of working in close contact with wild animals in the African bush. Applicants must be over 18 years old.

 

Training / Qualifications

Soon after each volunteer arrives they will be given an orientation including a visual introduction to the larger ideas and goals that are the background to the research project, including our current understanding of black rhinoceros behaviour and ecology, and a tour of the field site and reserve where they will be working. Full training in radio telemetry and animal/vegetation survey in the African bush will be given. For volunteers who stay for 4 weeks or more, the project can provide volunteers (upon request) with a letter of reference detailing the volunteers contribution, experience and accomplishment during their stay. The program is designed to train and educate volunteers to a level of competence as a field assistant in a way that will facilitate future opportunities for them.

 

Costs

2 weeks: GB695 / US$1395

3 weeks: GB845 / US$1695

4 weeks: GB995 / US$1995

 

*Joint Discount*  Volunteers receive a US$100 / GB50 discount when joining multiple Enkosini Eco Experience programmes.

 

The volunteers contribution covers accommodation, meals, and living expenses in the field. Flights, travel/medical insurance and transport to/from Richards Bay are not included. The only additional spending money required will be for personal purchases (curios, alcohol, soda, luxury/imported goods, chocolates, sweets, toiletries), social excursions away from field camp, and pre/post project travel.

 

Dates

There are no set dates for this project, although we always try to  organize arrivals/departures on working week days (Monday Friday) to coincide with weekly town trips for food/supplies etc (see also timing for flight arrival/departure below for preferred domestic flights between Johannesburg and Richards Bay). Volunteers just need to inform us of the date they are planning to arrive. 

 

Transport

The towns most visited intermittently for supplies from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park and other reserves are Mkuzi, Mtubatuba, and Richards Bay. These towns are approximately 450 km from Johannesburg and 60-110 km from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.

 

Buses and flights are available from Johannesburg to Richards Bay and arrangements will be made to collect incoming volunteers from Richards Bay (either airport or bus depot).   The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi has restricted entry hours (gates close at 18h00) so volunteers must arrive into Richards Bay by no later than 15h00 for pick-up. 

 

By Plane Johannesburg to Richards Bay Airport

Flights leave from domestic terminal at Johannesburg International Airport. There are 2 flights every weekday and Sunday and 1 flight on Saturdays. The flight takes 90 minutes. These flights are conducted by SA Express or SA Airlink.  Please do not take any flights that arrive before 10h00 or after 15h00.

 

By Bus Johannesburg to Richards Bay

There are 2 buses a day serviced by two companies:

Greyhound (http://www.greyhound.co.za/) and Translux (http://www.translux.co.za/).  Since the buses arrive after 15h00, you will have to travel the day before your programme starts and overnight in Richards Bay.  Bus tickets can also be purchased at www.computicket.com.  

 

If you need to overnight in Richards Bay either before or after your programme, the Black Rhino staff can pick you up or drop you off at the Formula One Hotel in Richards Bay (www.formulaone.co.za).

 

Packing List

Bush clothing (i.e., dull coloured, hard wearing)

Hat or cap/peak (dull colour) 

Waterproof jacket

Long sleeved/legged clothing (chilly evenings, keeps mosquitoes off) 

Walking/hiking shoes or boots (comfortable) 

Sunscreen lotion 

Insect repellent (ticks and mosquitoes) 

Personal toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste etc) 

Personal medication 

Binoculars 

Waterbottle 

Torch/flashlight 

Sleeping pad (bed linen supplied)

 

Testimonials

"Just being in Africa is amazing, life is everywhere and everything, its in your face all the time.  Working for the project enabled us to live in and around the animals we were studying, and also with local people.  This gave us first hand knowledge of the realities of conservation and was an incredible experience for me Another great thing about having worked for the project and conservation in general was that we were often asked what we had done to help Africa?  And it was great to be able to say Ive spent the last 5 months helping to understand and save one of your most endangered species. Working in Africa is phenomenal.  Waynes project and expertise make this possible and it was through his project that I was able to have an experience that is not possible from sitting in a hide at a waterhole or on a safari.  So it is without the slightest hesitation that I wholeheartedly encourage anyone with a sense of adventure to volunteer for this project." 

Blair Reid, New Zealand.

 

"I was one of the first volunteers to help with the Black Rhino Research Programme. I had just finished my degree in zoology and was really keen to fulfill my life long dream to see Africa and it's wildlife. To help out with the project was a real adventure for me, every day brought something new. It was a great opportunity to see some of Africas most impressive wildlife. Having done the trip I have no regrets, only fond memories and a yearning to return."  

Braden Crocker, New Zealand.

   

 

 

To contact our South African office:

Enkosini Eco Experience

P.O. Box 1197, Lydenburg 1120, South Africa

E-mail: info@enkosini.com, Web: www.enkosini.com

 

To contact our US office:

Enkosini Eco Experience

4111 East Madison Street, Suite 76, Seattle, WA 98112, USA

Tel: +1.206.604.2664, Fax: +1.310.359.0269

E-mail: info@enkosini.com, Web: www.enkosini.com

 


Copyright The Lion Foundation/Enkosini