The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is undertaking a major population study and relocation exercise at Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya’s Rift Valley as rhino numbers there expand. The park is crucial to Kenya’s efforts to revive numbers of the endangered, but once plentiful, black rhino. In addition to relocating some animals, the undertaking includes ear-notching, census and transmitter-fitting exercises, performed by officers from the elite force.

The initiative is expected to help increase the rhino population in the area as well as determine their distribution and enhance monitoring and distribution of the endangered species.

Ben Okita, National Rhino Co-ordinator, said the KWS aims to capture 10 black rhinos for ear-notching, while a further 10 will be relocated to the Tsavo National Park, in the country’s south-east near Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro

“When you ear-notch you put specific patterns in the ears to help in their identification. The reason we are doing this is rhinos are not in many numbers but there are some areas where we have bred rhinos to levels that we have attained levels we call maximum carrying capacity. So when you get to the carrying capacity, it is essential that you remove some of the animals so that you give room to the ones that are remaining behind,” Okita explained.

Black rhinos are listed as critically endangered by the International World Conservation Union’s (IUCN), meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Kenya’s black rhino population was decimated by poaching in the 1970’s but in some places, like Lake Nakuru National Park, numbers have been gradually recovering, thanks to strict conservation measures.

But a sharp rise in the price offered by black-market dealers in rhino horn has seen a marked rise in poaching, not just in east Africa but also in South Africa, where rhinos have been carefully protected for decades.

Despite the devastating drought that hit Kenya in 2009, the rhino population has maintained steady growth and there are currently some 630 black and 350 white rhinos in Kenya.

“Since 2003 when we started removing rhinos from here, we have removed up to 25 black rhinos to re-stock former ranges,” added Okita.

KWS aims to increase Kenya’s black rhino population to 2000 by 2035 through the expansion of existing rhino sanctuaries and through the establishment of new protected areas that can accommodate future population growth.