Nairobi, May 7 (Swara)—In an initiative to bolster conservation efforts, The Safari Collection and Footprint Trust have joined forces to spearhead a pioneering rhino monitoring project in Kenya. The collaboration facilitated a successful seven-day operation to GPS tag and ear-notch 13 black rhinos within the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Working in tandem with the Narok County Government, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Wildlife Research and Training Institute, as well as local and international conservation organisations, the endeavour marked a significant milestone in safeguarding the endangered eastern Black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaelli) population in Kenya.

The tagged rhinos, belonging to one of only two free-ranging, indigenous eastern Black rhino populations in the country, are now equipped with GPS tags that provide hourly updates. These updates offer invaluable data to the Reserve’s Rhino Ranger Unit, enhancing knowledge on how best to protect these critically endangered animals.

“Ear notching is needed to individually identify rhinos; it is part of the rhino monitoring protocol, which aims for 60 per cent of any population to be notched and identifiable. Ideally, notching is needed every 2 to 3 years, depending on the population,” explained Linus Kariuki, KWS Head of Rhino.

Ear notching, the method of clipping small sections from a rhino’s ears, facilitates easy identification and monitoring of the animals.

With its potential to support a substantial Black rhino population, the Mara faces challenges despite witnessing a notable increase in rhino numbers in recent years. Despite this growth, the population remains below its recorded peak of around 150 in the 1960s. Factors such as habitat loss, tourism-related disturbances, and inadequate coordination of rhino surveillance across the ecosystem pose significant threats to the population’s sustainability.

“It’s trying to find the balance between how we can get the most out of the Mara without compromising the success of a critically endangered eastern Black rhino population. Using the technology that we have at our disposal, we must bring all the data together to help the Maasai Mara,” noted Grant Burden from 51 Degrees.

Efficient population management is crucial in achieving the objectives outlined in the Kenya Black Rhino Action Plan, which recommends standardized rhino monitoring protocols and genetic profiling of at least 90 per cent of the Mara-Serengeti rhino population.

Stephen Minis, Chief Park Warden, highlighted the dedicated efforts of the Mara Rhino Ranger Unit in monitoring and protecting the endangered species, which serves as a major attraction for visitors to the Maasai Mara.

The installation of cutting-edge technology, including the EarthRanger system and a wireless LoRa WAN (long-range wide area network), as part of the Reserve’s new Management Plan, marks a significant step towards enhancing management, monitoring, and anti-poaching efforts across the Reserve.

The operation, a collaborative effort between the Narok County Government, KWS, the Wildlife Research and Training Institute, The Safari Collection Footprint Trust, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Mara Conservancy, and 51 Degrees Ltd., underscores the collective commitment towards safeguarding Kenya’s wildlife heritage.