Craig and Charles Mayhew Interview
EXPERT Q&A: Ian Craig and Charles Mayhew
The men of Northern Rangelands Trust and Tusk on their ongoing relocation of rhinos and how much work still needs to be done
By: SANDY CUNNINGHAM & WHITNEY JAMES
After a 25 year absence, black rhinos are once again roaming the rangelands of the Samburu people in northern Kenya. The success is in thanks to the efforts of the community and conservation groups who carried out the challenging work needed to protect these endangered creatures. Twenty rhinos total are being rounded up and transported by crate to Kenya's Lewa, Nakuru, and Nairobi national parks. The hope is that this new herd will reproduce and make the new territory their own. We caught up with Ian Craig, Director of Conservation for the Northern Rangelands Trust, and Charlie Mayhew, Chief Executive of Tusk Trust, two men behind the movement, to find out more.
Q: There has been a lot of press on the rhino-poaching crisis in Africa, and it can be hard to sift through. Can you explain the current situation in Kenya for the rhinos?
IAN: In 2012, 2013, and 2014, like elsewhere across Africa, Kenya experienced a massive increase in rhino poaching, losing increasing numbers of rhino each successive year. However, Kenya has been able to reverse this trend significantly, losing only three rhino to poaching so far in 2015. This is purely due to strong law enforcement on the ground and the enactment and implementation of new penalties for wildlife crime of up to 20 years in jail and/or fines of $220,000.
Q: Recently, huge caches of ivory have been confiscated and destroyed recently. Does this act as a deterrent for poachers or is it not enough?
IAN: Arresting poachers and destroying ivory are all just parts of tackling an extremely complex chain of processes from a gunman illegally killing an elephant through to illegal ivory arriving in the market country. Arresting ivory traffickers serves as a direct loss to those involved; destroying ivory sends a clear message to the world that ivory is illegal and by purchasing ivory one is supporting the illegal killing of elephant. But this is not enough.
Q: Can you tell us about the logistics involved in an operation like this and what knowledge have you gained from the recent huge relocation of rhinos in Southern Africa? What are the security measures in place to protect the rhinos in the areas they have been moved to?
IAN: The recent translocation of rhino to Sera (the recently established Sera Community Conservancy, on Samburu land in northern Kenya) was a large, complex operation involving many different levels of expertise and logistics, from the source capture to the free release within the new sanctuary. Rhino translocation is now a well-proven exercise with methodology and techniques shared openly amongst the circles involved. In the case of Sera, the capture was undertaken by Kenya Wildlife Service vets working closely with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy staff. The vehicles where all four-wheel-drive trucks to cope with the sandy conditions at Sera, and each truck had its own lifting crane to load and unload the boxes. The helicopter for darting was provided by Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and the support aircraft by the Northern Rangelands Trust. The animals were caught and transported immediately, having been tranquilized for the trip. On arrival at Sera, the rhino were free-released near water points, which meant off-loading the boxes, minimizing any disturbance, and then opening the boxes to allow the animals to move away freely into the new sanctuary. Once free, the rhino were monitored through a small VHF transmitter embedded in their horn, which allowed rangers to obtain precise positions on the ground and to be assisted from an aircraft if required. An independent armed team of specially trained and resourced rangers will provide 24-hour surveillance of the rhino. Given the experience in other rhino sanctuaries in Kenya, where the majority of poaching has occurred at night, the teams operate mainly at night and especially over full-moon periods.
Q: This relocation must have been bittersweet, having lost a few rhino during the relocation. What could be done differently next time?
IAN: The translocation was indeed a roller coaster of emotions given the buildup over five years of planning. The capture went flawlessly initially, and then one rhino was lost due to complications during anesthesia and a further two rhino that despite plenty of water holes did not manage to find the water holes on release and became dehydrated in the hot country of Sera, which led to stomach complications. This left 11 animals within the sanctuary—six females and five males, making up a viable breeding group…although the loss of three animals was a devastating blow and the loss of any single rhino is extraordinarily painful. If we were to repeat the translocation we would probably revert to keeping the animals in holding pens for a short time before release in order to acclimatize them and ensure that they are released fully hydrated.
“It is not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails whilst daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat”
- Theodore Roosevelt
Q: The recent appointment of Richard Leakey as the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service was met with resounding praise worldwide. What changes do you foresee under Leakey?
IAN: Richard Leakey has a reputation of success and establishing dynamic leadership amongst his team. I am confident that we can expect the same in the coming weeks and months. He will not let any grass grow under his feet whilst establishing a professional pride within the organization and re-establishing Kenya’s leadership position in the war on the illegal wildlife trade—specifically ivory.
Q: Can you tell us more about your recent trip to China, given that China is one of the biggest markets for ivory, rhino horn, and other illegal wildlife products
CHARLIE: I was very fortunate to be invited to accompany Tusk’s royal patron, the Duke of Cambridge, on his recent visit to China, where conservation was high on the agenda. The duke had a very good meeting with President Xi Jinping, when they discussed the urgent need to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. None of us are under any illusion as to how big the challenge is, but we did find a willingness to engage in the debate. There is a huge need to educate people in consumer nations like China as to the reality of this appalling trade. The duke’s final keynote speech to an Asian regional conference on conservation in Yunnan was very well received and widely reported, as he sought to raise awareness of the issues and encourage China to take a lead. I remain optimistic, but certainly not complacent, that progress can be made and I applaud Prince William on the lead that he is showing the world on this huge issue.
Q: This rhino relocation was a momentous undertaking. What do you both hope it will achieve?
IAN: The move of black rhino into community hands and the establishment of a new community-owned sanctuary for rhino is a milestone for Africa. If this project succeeds, produces more rhino and associated employment opportunities whilst establishing new economies, it opens up a whole new sector for conservation: the owners of millions of acres of community land may well wish to follow the example of Sera.
CHARLIE: We cannot be the generation that stood by and idly allowed incredible species such as elephant, lion, and rhino disappear on our watch simply because we would not act. Ambitious and groundbreaking relocations such as the rhino move to Sera must be supported and allowed to succeed or we simply risk retreating further and losing vital habitat and wilderness areas, which once it is gone, is gone forever. To me there is no choice!
Q: What is next, and what can we do to make a difference in the USA?
CHARLIE: We need greater investment in security on the ground, supporting the rangers who put their lives on the line every day. We need more investment in communities so they can use conservation as a tool to help improve livelihoods. And we need pressure on governments to clamp down on the trade and impose punitive sentences as a greater deterrent. But beyond the illegal wildlife trade, we need to fiercely guard against any further destruction of natural forests and habitat.
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Craig and Mayhew Interview
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