IUCN - So you think rhino tracking is easy?

So you think rhino tracking is easy?

07 September 2012 | News story

  So you think rhino tracking is easy? Let me provide an insight into the daily life of a rhino tracker in the harsh desert of Namibia where SOS – Save Our Species is supporting our work. My name is Dibasem and I have been working as a tracker for Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) for 10 years.   

 I am part of SRT’s Southern team, and patrol with three other trackers and a team leader. There are three other patrol teams, spread across the 25,000km² rhino range. Our typical patrol days start early, often before sunrise, when the rhinos are still active and feeding, or visiting springs.

We conduct patrols by vehicle, camel, donkey and on foot, and track by interpreting rhino signs. Tracking is difficult, especially in hot, arid or rainy conditions. However, over the years I have learnt many skills in searching for rhino. We keep our eyes open for signs of rhino feeding on bushes or fresh dung and urine and our senses of hearing and smell also play a role. Once we find rhino signs, we decide how fresh they are; if they are recent we track the rhino on foot, often on very tough, rocky terrain.

We must be very careful whilst tracking, as rhino often sleep completely hidden by trees or bushes. We work closely as a team, keeping a watchful eye out for rhino whilst following the spoor. It is important to approach rhino safely as they are wild, potentially dangerous animals and can charge at speeds of 40km/h. We pay close attention to the wind direction and always approach rhino downwind. Rhino, although they have poor eyesight, have an acute sense of smell and hearing.

Once we spot a rhino, we hide behind bushes, trees or rocks to remain undetected and not disturb the rhino. The most important part of our job is to accurately complete the rhino identification forms. To identify the rhino, we record age, sex, ear notches, horn size and shape, tail shape, condition of animal and injuries, along with the time, GPS location and distance from the rhino. We also photograph the rhino taking front, side and rear view shots. The hardest rhinos to identify are clean animals – those with no distinguishing features – however with years of tracking experience, it is sometimes possible to identify rhino through our knowledge of their usual home range. The detail on the individual rhino is used to make a comparison against the information contained in the database and the ID forms are then used to record the sighting in the database.

Last year, SRT’s teams spent 622 hours tracking rhino on foot, covering 20,946km by vehicle or donkey, recording 501 rhino sightings. We are proud of our many rhino sightings and all the data on the population entered into the database. We really need to protect the rhino against poaching and keep track of the total population. Our constant presence is an active deterrent to poachers. We are lucky to have good relationships with the local, neighbouring communities - they are the “eyes and ears” of the area and often give us valuable information about the rhino and suspicious activity in the area.

So, do you still think rhino tracking is easy?