Les Carlisle: Group Conservation Manager
With an endless string of accreditations to his name, as well as an impressive list of conservation firsts, many of which we are proud to say have been accomplished during his time at andBeyond, the preservation of wildlife has been a lifelong focus for Les. Pioneering the chemical immobilisation of giraffe and the capture of Cape buffalo, he has translocated countless hundreds of heads of game, some from as far apart as Texas, USA, back to South Africa.
Les’s history with andBeyond dates back to 1991 and includes everything from the project management of the construction of their first lodges to erecting more than 120 km of fencing and reintroducing more than 1 000 animals at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve alone. His buffalo quarantine programme at Phinda led to new national protocol for buffalo on private land. He and andBeyond were the first to use sedation to socialise lions from different prides in acclimatisation pens prior to release, as well as the first to transport immobilised lions by air. The predator reintroduction programme he led at Phinda has been hailed as a shining example for all other efforts and his pioneering elephant reintroductions revolutionised international capture methodologies.
Les Carlisle and Larien Spies of andBeyond, www.andbeyond.com, invited Safaritalk members to submit their questions regarding the recent rhino translocation from Phinda in South Africa to Botswana, the original topic which can be found here. Further to this, the andBeyond press release documenting the translocation can be found here.
Is there any concern about mobile poachers wandering in from Zimbabwe or Mozambique?
Probably not in the Okavango Delta. The one advantage of the Delta is that it is a wetland and that makes it really difficult to get around. You really have to know the area not to get lost.
Is there realistic security in place to control any problems with poaching?
Absolutely. We have increased our private anti-poaching unit and committed one team dedicated to tracking rhino full time. The Botswana Department of Wildlife has also allocated a full anti-poaching unit for these rhino, plus we have a full-time researcher tracking them daily.
Have rhinos been in the area before, how well have they done?
Historically, the Delta has supported a healthy rhino population. In recent times, however, we have only had a cow/calf combination pass through the area. The pair didn’t stay for long – they typically move until they find other rhino or a physical barrier.
Given the recent disturbing trend of a tiny minority of visitors being the research part of poaching gangs and using mobile/cell phones to locate rhinos with GPS positions, is it intended to ban the use of cell phones on game drives?
These rhino were released in an area where there is no cell phone coverage so that isn’t an issue.
So the district names of where the rhinos are don't become known are the rangers going to talk on their radios using earpieces?
All andBeyond rangers in our South African reserves stopped calling in rhino two years ago.
In the same light anti-poaching, what is the access to the place, by plane only? If not under the guise of extra service are self-drive guest being meet in the car park to being helped with their luggage and checked that they don't have guns?
All of our lodges in the Delta are accessible by air only and guests have to clear security at Maun Airport before flying.
Understandably, for security reasons, previous rhino relocation and reintroduction projects in Botswana have been restricted to Chief's Island and the Mombo Concession of the Moremi Game Reserve - are there plans to reintroduce rhino to other parts of the Okavango Delta or other areas such as Linyanti and Kwando?
We have no such plans right now. This translocation will educate and guide us for future translocations.
What features or characteristics do you look at for a location before giving it a nod for translocation?
Most importantly in this instance, we asked the question, did the animals occur in the area before?
Is it important that the location is in the heart of protected zone with adequate buffer zones around it?
No, because the animals don’t follow an instruction to stay where it’s safe or where they were released. Upon release, they will move until they are comfortable or they hit a physical barrier such as a river or fence.
Do you think the poaching crisis has actually made translocations more difficult and challenging? i.e. if the crisis were not so bad in the last 3 years, we would have seen more translocation measures?
No, not necessarily, but what has happened is that the land owners who might have bought rhino in the past are not risking it now because it makes their property a target.
Do you work with other safari operators for such translocation?
Yes, we had great support from OWS for this translocation and they advised us while we were getting the project off the ground.
Are current efforts focussed in Southern Africa in general, focussed in Botswana or are there plans for East Africa?
Southern Africa holds 90% of the world’s rhino population, so it is expected to have the lion’s share of the activity. We are a private sector, conservation-driven operator with limited resources so can’t work everywhere. I am not aware of any big project in East Africa at the moment.
What are the economics of one such translocation if you could run us through the numbers?
Sure, using broad strokes, the value of the rhino (this varies but let’s use the 2013KZN Wildlife prices) is R250 000 per rhino x 6 = R1.5 million. The meetings, approval and permit process, capture, quarantine, transport and satellite/VHF telemetry and immobilisation costs are approximately R250k per rhino (approximately R1.5 million). Therefore the total project cost for six rhino would cost approximately R3 million.
Is there any kind of post-translocation monitoring and observation that you do that you could describe?
The rhino have been fitted with both satellite and VHF transmitters. We have a full-time researcher doing her PhD on the translocation, as well as a full-time tracking team from our anti-poaching unit. The Botswana Department of Wildlife’s anti-poaching unit has allocated a full-time team to the project.
For how long?
The satellite monitoring is for one year and we expect the VHF transmitters to last 18-24 months. The two tracking teams are employed permanently.
Before you would agree to translocation do you look into the buy-in, acceptance, support of the other operators, government, army, anything else?
Yes, everyone was included and this was coordinated through the Botswana Rhino Management Committee, a national board comprising the private sector and government.
What are your views on legalising rhino horn trade?
We have to legalize the trade in order to save the species. Rhino have to become more valuable alive than they are dead. This is not an attempt to reduce poaching, it is a species survival strategy.
Why do you feel Botswana is a safer location for the rhino, (assuming that you do) and are you sure it is going to stay that way?
Currently Botswana is a safer environment with support from the President down through all of the government and security departments. The national support and safety measures certainly motivated us.
Wouldn't there be populations much more at risk that those in Phinda, (again i am assuming it is well protected), and did you consider relocating those instead? (This question could be "Why those particular rhinos?" if you prefer.)
It is a matter of budget, as you would have to buy the other rhino and andBeyond Phinda donated these six.
What do people use the Rhino horn for? Is it just medicinal or do they serve cosmetic purposes like the elephant tusks.
There are many uses for rhino horn, including traditional medicine, status symbols, ornamental dagger handles, etc. The use of traditional medicine has been going on for more than 2 000 years, so we won’t change that easily or quickly.
What is poaching so prevalent is South Africa?
South Africa has the highest rhino population and therefore the highest poaching statistics. Wildlife poaching is on the rise overall, with Tanzania losing up to 10,000 elephants per year so we are not the only target.
How many rhinos are left in the wild?
Approximately 20 000 white rhino and 5 000 black rhino.
Is Rhino without borders a recognized charity to which we can make donation? Or is it only the name of the translocation operation?
Rhinos without borders is just the brand name behind the project. Africa Foundation is the charity organisation associated with the project. Anyone wishing to make a donation towards any of the conservation or community initiatives associated with andBeyond are welcome to contact the Africa Foundation at:
Johannesburg, South Africa:
Tel: +27 (0) 11 809 4429
Fax: +27 (0) 11 809 4345
E–mail enquiries: leavealegacy@AfricaFoundation.org.za
Block F, Pinmill Farm, 164 Katherine Street, Sandown, Gauteng, South Africa
PO Box 784826, Sandton 2146, South Africa
Maybe a stupid question, but rhinos cannot swim if I am correct.
I also believed this but these Rhino crossed from island to island without hesitation.
Don't you fear that some rhinos could drown in the Okavango delta.
No the water rises slowly so there is very little chance of them getting caught.
If they are on chief island, it s much dryer and safer for them than other places. (I saw once a rhino drowned after being pushed into a small river by another bull after a fight).
Yes it happens, very rarely but it does.
It's related to the previous question. How was the rhinos population in the delta and in Botswana in general 50-60 years ago? I guess there were lots of rhinos.
Yes apparently so!
With the trade in wildlife being such big business in South Africa, would you agree that this Trade is, in some way, fueling the extremely high levels of Poaching currently seen there?
The legal and live trade in wildlife is the reason that South Africa has wildlife in the first place. The live and legal trade has been going on for 35 years in South Africa the Rhino poaching levels only started worsening in 2009. I do not believe there is a connection between the current legal trade in wildlife and poaching. In Tanzania they have no live wildlife trade and they could potentially loose as many as 10 000 elephants this year alone.
What is the origin of these particular Rhinos? Were they purchased originally for your South Africa operations or particularly for Botswana?
These Rhino were donated to the people of Botswana by andBeyond.
Presumably the idea, in part, is to have these animals in your concession to attract more clients to your camps, what will you do when they, inevitably, wander off?
The idea was and is to establish a second viable breeding population in the delta. If this happens to be on another concession and not our concessions then all is still good and well.
As the Rhinos in Botswana were made extinct by Humans, what makes you think it is safer than South Africa as there are considerably fewer people per square kilometre in Botswana?
Yes they have been made extinct in the wild in Botswana twice. The difference this time around is the fact that Botswana now have a very conservation orientated President, and this is the best security you can have anywhere!
How will you gauge the success of your rhino translocation program?
The first phase has been an unequivocal success, all the rhino survived and are happily settles and ranging free in their new home. The second phase and project success will only be achieved once the population start breeding and growing and we look forward to this in the near future.
What are the qualifications for you Phinda rhino guards?
All the guards receive intensive specialist training…and training and more training. Their training has had to become much more military in order to deal with the nature of the threat the rhinos face.
On a side note, can you describe your Phinda rhino darting safari, where guests accompany rangers working in the field? Is it by vehicle or helicopter or both?
The guests who fund our rhino notching program follow the action from a vehicle alongside the ground crew vehicle whilst the darting is done by the veterinarian from a helicopter. We need both on site but as the darting requires the helicopter to be as light as possible to keep it safe we only have the pilot and vet in the helicopter. It is an absolutely incredible experience and those who have been fortunate enough to participate in conservation initiatives with andBeyond in the past have described them as life changing.
With 353 rhinos killed this year, (at the time this question was written), in South Africa alone, is translocation to a more secure country one of the more realistic options left to conservationists? If so, why?
With a devastating 428 rhino poached this year alone, we have to try every possible solution and translocation has successfully restored the species in the past.
What guarantees are there that these 6 rhino will not be poached, when other similar operations have failed previously?
We have absolute confidence in Botswana’s ability to protect its rhino as they have government support that is driven by the President himself, an avid conservationist at heart. We have no guarantees but what we do know is that we have given these rhino a fighting chance.
What happens if all are poached in the first year? How would that affect your input on further such projects?
In the extremely tragic event that this did happen we would have to review our plans for the next translocation.
What increase do you expect in visitor numbers once the rhinos have settled in to their new surroundings? How will they be used to increase tourism in Bots? How will these 6 rhino be marketed to tourists? When for instance there are plenty of other locations where sightings are "more or less" guaranteed?
This was a conservation initiative so we will only be measuring its success in conservation terms, any potential tourism benefits are great but not the focus of the project.
What interaction will there be for visitors? Eg the possibility of tracking on foot with the guards, possible conservation tourism where one can assist on the ground?
All these things may or may not be possible depending on where the rhino are at a given time and what the water levels are in the delta.
Can you foresee that in future, Botswana for instance will look to buy surplus rhino in game auctions and translocate without the assistance of a large operator, or are they keen to work in close co-operation with other entities such as yourselves?
There is a recent history of Rhino translocations into Botswana and we hope that all Botswana’s resources are focused on protecting the rhino that are there now. This will allow more industry leaders like andBeyond to focus on raising funds to further increase conservation efforts in all regions. This is a true partnership.
How have you marketed this internationally? (Aside from usual English language channels?) What is andBeyond's market share in Asian countries for instance? How can you use this as educational propaganda, instead of the anti Chinese/Vietnamese rhetoric that is so prevalent in some social media circles? Have you invited any news channels or outlets from China and Vietnam to report on the story for instance?
Good suggestion, however this was a conservation initiative. Changing 2000 years of tradition and beliefs is the role of the UN and Government not small private sector conservation led lodge operators. That said we documented this incredibly important initiative and have been releasing YouTube video’s as the project progressed. These video’s along with other vital project updates have been distributed to the international press and to the global public via social media channels. Key opinion leaders from select markets were also invited to attend certain legs of the translocation and we hope that collectively these efforts will drive small changes to make a big difference.
Would these 6 rhino stand a better chance of survival if they remained at Phinda? If so, why move them?
Phinda has been removing Rhino from the population to keep it breeding at a maximum rate for many years and these Rhino were earmarked for removal by the reserve management. I was delighted when they were offered to the Botswana project as a donation. The concept of translocation is the very reason why we have a healthy rhino population today and it helps to spread the risk. Healthy growing populations are the best sources of new founder population.
This translocation wouldn’t have been possible through the help of our generous sponsors.
Africa Foundation - www.africafoundation.org.za
RHINO FORCE - www.rhinoforce.co.za
Motorite Administrators - www.motorite.co.za
Chipembere Rhino Foundation - www.chipembere.org
Thanks everyone for your questions, Les Carlisle.
The images used to illustrate this interview are courtesy and copyright of Roger de la Harpe.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
Edited by Game Warden