Before poaching became a menace in the 80s, rhinos roamed the Meru National Park freely.
The idea of a sanctuary came later to provide a smaller, controlled and more secure environment for the rhinos which were in danger of becoming extinct. Necessity saw the set up of the park’s sanctuary, which sat across 45 square kilometres.
With time however, rangers and wardens realised that the old sanctuary did not have enough water sources, pasture or space for the territorial and steadily increasing rhino population.
After careful consideration, the sanctuary was moved to the northern part of the park and expanded to sit on 83 square kilometres, which is 10 per cent of the park land.
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The new sanctuary sits across acreage that holds several rivers and wetlands such as Mutundu, Kathithi, Rojawero and Mururi.
Unlike in the 60s when there were thousands of rhinos roaming the park, the numbers have reduced to dangerous levels which has necessitated drastic interventions to curb poaching.
The sanctuary is surrounded by a high voltage electric fence designed to keep rhinos in but allow other wildlife like giraffes to move freely. The sanctuary is also under heavy 24-hour security.
According to Muraya Githinji, the warden in charge of Meru National Park, “in terms of security, we have ensured that there is adequate personnel of uniformed staff to protect the rhinos.
As a way of naturally increasing rhino population at the Meru National Park, restocking of rhinos from other parks and reserves is done periodically to facilitate propagation.
“For rhinos, we do not do any external interventions in terms of birth rates because we believe that nature should take its course. What we provide is a conducive environment for the rhinos to reproduce,” Muraya said.
The Meru National Park has witnessed a rhino baby boom in the past year with the birth of nine calves, seven of whom were white and two of who were black rhinos.
Nationally, 31 rhino births have been recorded in the past year with 17 of those being black and 14 being white rhinos.
The crown jewel in terms of reproduction at the Meru National Park is a female white rhino by the name Makena which was relocated to Meru from Solio Game Reserve during restocking. She has since given birth to four calves.
Although rhinos are part of the Big Five, they are very delicate and require close monitoring. Although rhino predators are rare, a hyena can still try to attack a calf if the opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, man is rhino’s greatest predator through poaching.
A white rhino reaches maturity at the age of four years while the black rhino which is indigenous to Kenya reaches maturity at the age of six years. The life expectancy of both white and black rhinos ranges between 50 and 60 years while their gestation period is 15 to 16 months.
Due to the hidden layout of a rhino’s reproductive organs and the hands-off approach adopted at the Meru National Park, it takes time to sex a calf. As a result, naming of calves usually has to await the notching season.
Notching involves the cutting of a rhino’s ears in a particular way to ease identification.
According to Muraya, the biggest challenge they face at the sanctuary is tsetse fly infestation. To curb the menace, they use target traps.
Improved security measures in the protection of rhinos has helped reduce poaching. In the last two years, there has been no poaching incident at the Meru National Park.