The WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) was established by veterinarian and project leader Dr Jacques Flamand in 2003 and is one of WWF’s most successful species conservation projects ever. Which is certainly welcome news in a time of relentless poaching.

Black Rhino - pic credit Micky Wiswedel WWF SA

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife realised in the early 2000’s that the black rhino populations in their reserves were not breeding at desired levels, most likely due to them having reached carrying capacity. BRREP’s concept rests on removing black rhinos from these populations and establishing new ones, in the black rhino’s former range. This increases the growth rate of the source populations as rhinos now have space again to grow and the new populations, having been translocated to a new home of suitable size, will grow in numbers as well. The project is central to the goal of increasing the population growth of black rhinos, which are listed as critically endangered.

The project works with private, state and community landowners when choosing partner sites. Black rhino are then translocated from Ezemvelo’s state-protected areas to these partner sites, to create new populations, in addition to increasing their range, it also means that populations within those protected areas do not exceed the area’s ecological carrying capacity. To create large enough areas to sustain significant black rhino populations—up to 20,000 hectares or more—the Project encourages neighbouring landowners to remove their internal fences and manage their properties as a single ecological unit.

“Black rhino are very anti-social and tend to be solitary and need huge tracts of land because they don’t want other rhino close to them. This makes them difficult to manage and is one of the reasons why their numbers have not increased to the degree that white rhino numbers have,” says WWF’s project leader Dr Jacques Flamand. “One of the best parts of the project is seeing fences come down, as they are very unfriendly to species requiring large areas, like black rhino, elephant and wild dog. The Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has shown that concentrating on one species can be a catalyst for protection of huge areas which then has a knock-on effect.”

The arrangement that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has with the BRREP is that it retains ownership of the original founder population, but ownership of the progeny is shared between them and the landowner – which creates a strong financial incentive for project partners to manage their black rhino populations. “But” says Dr Jacques Flamand, “love for conservation has been the driving force. The common thread through the people who have helped make the project work was passion.”

The Black Rhino Range Expansion Project also funds security measures in black rhino source populations.

To date, BRREP has translocated 216 rhinos to establish 13 new populations, one of which is Thanda Safari Game Reserve. The Thanda’s population was introduced in 2009 and was the BRREP’s fifth population and currently holds the highest growth rate amongst all the sites.

Black Rhino pre-translocation veterinary check - pic credit Micky Wiswedel WWF SA
Black Rhino translocation - pic credit Micky Wiswedel WWF SA

Across the project sites over 130 calves have been born thus far, with 29 calves in 2020 – two of the calves are second generation, meaning that their grandmothers were among those moved to create new populations. At this point, the project sites hold a combined 283 rhinos and rising. In 2019 BRREP established its first black rhino population outside of South Africa when black rhinos were translocated to Liwonde National Park in Malawi in partnership with Malawi’s Department of Wildlife and African Parks.

Black Rhino translocation - pic credit Micky Wiswedel WWF SA

BRREP has contributed to the continual increase of black rhino numbers within KwaZulu-Natal over the last 15 years, an important feat given that black rhinos are a critically endangered species.

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