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High-tech mission to save the black rhino

SCI & TECH
By | November 5th 2009

It is afternoon at Tsavo West National Park and a mission to track down the endangered black rhino is ready to roll.

The exact location is Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, home to 69 black rhinos under 24-hour surveillance.

Gathered at the sanctuary for the trip to test the satellite tracking system are myself, a photographer and two Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) wardens.

We focus on a specific female rhino, Najma. With the officer in-charge of the sanctuary Lmuate Lenguro holding a receiver out of the car window, we navigate the dusty roads following signals from a transmitter fitted on the horn of Najma.

After 15 minutes, the signal leads us to a thicket where Najma is mating with four males.

At the sanctuary rhinos all fitted with transmitters on their horns have names for identification. Bill, 28, is the oldest male and Shangike, 19, the oldest female.

Tracking devises

The tracking devices are the latest method of preserving the endangered black rhino against poachers.

"We can track each of the 69 animals because they have specific codes that react to signals from our receiver," Lenguro says.

KWS veterinary officers aboard an aeroplane shot the drugs into the animals before fixing the transmitters into their horns. "The exercise that started early this year took uthree months to complete and we also tagged the ears of the animals for physical identification," Lenguro says.

KWS says the black rhinos would be released back to the wild after their numbers stabilise.

Kenya has the third largest black rhino population after South Africa and Namibia.

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