By Hannah Campbell

World Rhino Day is celebrated annually on September 22nd and celebrates the five rhino species: black, white, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan.

The eastern black rhino is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, with fewer than 5,000 remaining worldwide. In Kenya, the black rhino population dropped from an estimated 20,000 in 1970, to fewer than 400 individuals in the space of 20 years, a decline of 98%. This was largely due to poaching as a result of challenges to wildlife management.

Progress is being made…

Due to outstanding conservation efforts across the country, the eastern black rhino population has grown to around 750, with Kenya remaining the stronghold of the subspecies.

This excellent progress in the reduction of poaching and implementation of breeding programmes has meant that the current sanctuaries are fast approaching the ecological carrying capacity for the population, and space is needed to maintain the desired grown rate of at least 5% per year.

2,000 individuals are recognised as being the minimum number for a metapopulation of the black rhino necessary to ensure the long term survival of this species in Kenya. The sooner this target can be achieved, the greater the reduction in loss of overall genetic diversity.

If the desired population growth of 5% per year is achieved and maintained, Kenya could reach this goal of 2,000 rhinos in 20 years. The main limiting factor is providing the space needed for this population growth.

… but space is needed to maintain the desired population growth.

 

Loisaba has recently sent an application to KWS requesting permission to become a Rhino Sanctuary.

Black rhinos were last seen on the property in the early 70’s, and it is an aim to make Loisaba a permanent home for rhinos again. Laikipia is already a stronghold for the eastern black rhino, with proven success in the similar environments to Loisaba such as Ol Jogi, Ol Pejeta and Lewa, which are prime black rhino habitat. The national black rhino action plan recognises the need to identify areas for population expansion to achieve the vision of attaining a metapopulation of 2,000 rhinos. Establishing a new rhino sanctuary in Loisaba conservancy will help achieve this vision, and contribute meaningfully to the Biological Management of the black rhino (D.b. michaeli) as Kenya strives to achieve the goal of a minimum population of 830 black rhinos by the end of 2021.

The reintroduction of rhinos to Loisaba not only provides habitat in order to maintain a population growth rate, but also creates an opportunity to widen the gene pool by creating a new breeding population with individuals from several different sanctuaries that have successfully reached carrying capacity.

In order to be ‘rhino ready’, we are aiming to raise funding for the extra costs associated with providing infrastructure and monitoring for rhinos. If you would like to hear more about our plan or find out how you can help us bring rhinos home to Loisaba, please contact Hannah on hannah@loisaba.com or visit www.loisaba.com/donate.

By Hannah Campbell

Lions are in trouble. Their population in Africa is estimated to have almost halved in the past 20 years, with as few as 20,000 estimated to be remaining across the entire continent. This is largely due to habitat loss and degradation, having lost 90% of their historic range. Other factors include reduction in prey, human-lion conflict, lack of incentives for communities to tolerate lions leading to a negative perception and ineffective lion population management.

© Hannah Campbell

In an effort to improve predator population monitoring, the Kenyan government, together with numerous NGO’s, are currently undertaking a comprehensive nation-wide lion survey using a standardised method called Spatially Explicit Capture Recapture Method. This involves teams regularly patrolling the conservancy and recording locations of lion sightings, as well as taking ID photographs, in order to estimate population size. Any other predators that are sighted are also recorded, with particular interest in cheetah and wild dog populations and distribution.

© Taro Croze

Loisaba is part of the 77,595km2 area that is being intensively surveyed to provide accurate estimates of lion numbers in all potential ‘source’ populations. Working closely with our partner Lion Landscapes, our conservation department has been trained on the standardised methodology in order to individually identify any lions that are sighted.

Map to show the areas that the lion census is taking place.

A further 580,367km2 will be surveyed through over 3,500 interviews with local experts. The results of these interviews will be analysed to assess the distribution of large carnivores throughout the country.

Guests staying at Elewana Collection’s Loisaba Lodo Springs, Loisaba Tented Camp and Loisaba Star Beds can help participate in this survey by reporting any sightings of lions, cheetahs or wild dogs to our conservation team.

© Taro Croze

Any photos that are taken of these predators are also useful! If you are staying at Loisaba and would like to contribute towards the database, please see the below guide for taking ID photos of the lions. The team will need to be able to distinguish between individuals, so focusing on one lion is best. If you manage to take all necessary photos of that individual, take a photo of the sky or ground as an indicator that you are now photographing another individual. Photos, along with the date, time and location (ask your guide for help with this if your camera does not have a built in GPS) can then be sent to info@lionlandscapes.org.

Guide for lion ID photos.

Recently discovered to be a unique species rather than a subspecies, reticulated giraffe (Giraffa reticulata) populations have declined drastically in just the past 30 years, from around 100,000 individuals in the 1980s to just around 15,000 individuals today. As a result of this alarming decline, in November 2018 they were listed as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List.

Historically, reticulated giraffe ranged throughout much of northern Kenya, into western Somalia, and into southern Ethiopia; however, their range is rapidly decreasing and while one or two fragment populations may persist in Ethiopia, the vast majority of their population occurs within the arid rangelands of northern Kenya. Within these rangelands, reticulated giraffe often overlap directly with humans and livestock and only 4% of their distribution is estimated to occur within formally protected areas. As a result, reticulated giraffe populations are increasingly threatened by habitat loss and degradation, climate chaos, and illegal poaching.

The Laikipia plateau, where Loisaba is situated, is a vast and breath taking landscape that provides critical habitat for reticulated giraffe, as well other threatened and endangered species. It offers an expanse of over 9,500 km2 comprised of traditional pastoral lands, cattle ranches, farmland and private conservancies. In addition, it is also believed to support critical movement corridors for giraffe; however, as of now, little is known about giraffe use of this landscape.

The “Twiga Walinzi” team monitoring reticulated giraffes at Loisaba Conservancy. © SDZG

Recent population monitoring by the “Twiga Walinzi” (Giraffe Guards) research team as well as systematic aerial surveys by Kenya Wildlife Service have been able to provide the first detailed population estimates of reticulated giraffe for the region. However, while these population estimates provide much needed information, relatively little is known about giraffe use and movement in these landscapes. Thus, further monitoring and research of these populations is vital for future conservation efforts.

San Diego Zoo Global, Giraffe Conservation Foundation and KWS safely capturing a giraffe at Loisaba Conservancy in order to attach a GPS tracking device. © SDZG

In 2017, 11 reticulated giraffes were fitted with specially solar-powered GPS tracking devices, in order to gain a better understanding of giraffe movements, habitat usage, population dynamics and numbers, and to inform conservation policy and management plans. The data from these giraffes has already been vital towards understanding movement patterns, as well as possible movement corridors and preferred areas of habitat. To continue this research, an additional 28 giraffes were successfully ‘collared’ across northern Kenya from August 27th – September 5th (five of which at Loisaba Conservancy) – the largest giraffe collaring operation in history.

A GPS tracking device being fitted to the giraffe’s ossicone. © SDZG

The project is part of the larger ‘Twiga Tracker’ Initiative that aims to collar >250 giraffe across Africa in an effort to understand their movement and spatial needs of giraffe to inform more effective future conservation efforts.

This project is a collaborative effort led by Giraffe Conservation Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, working collaboratively with Kenya Wildlife Service, Northern Rangelands Trust, and Loisaba Conservancy in addition to many in-country partners, and supported with regular on-the-ground monitoring by the Twiga Walinzi research team and the NRT ranger teams, as well as routine monitoring of the GPS satellite units year-round.

A reticulated giraffe with the GPS tracking device fitted. © Hannah Campbell

By Jenna Stacy-Dawes