Volunteer Experiences
March 24, 2015

Black Rhino Monitoring Volunteer Experience

Some of my time in Liwonde National Park (Malawi), so far, has been dedicated to locating a black rhino that has ranged outside of his normal rainy season territory. We have covered a lot of ground looking for both VHF signal, and physical tracks and signs, such as spoor and browsing marks.

What is a midden? Black Rhino Monitoring Volunteer Experience
Photo caption: Rhino midden.

We recently set up camera traps in areas of interest to try and get images of the black rhino because the rains can make manual tracking difficult. The camera traps were set up with Euphorbia feeding stations - Euphorbia trees are toxic to most animals, including humans, but are an irresistible treat for any black rhino!

Doing a lot of work on foot has allowed me to learn from Krisz, the rhino monitor, and the scouts as they combine manual tracking methods with VHF technology. I have been getting to know the various signs of rhino activity and how to distinguish between different individuals. It’s also really important that we use our time in the bush to collect any snares we come across, or to report evidence of poaching. The scouts have a particularly well-trained eye after taking part in many snare sweeps over the years.

Read more about becoming a wildlife volunteer

Walking through the bush has also let me see some amazing wildlife from a completely different perspective. We’ve encountered elephants on several occasions, trying to keep our distance and move around them. We also come across sable antelope, yellow baboons and buffalo, to name a few!

Measuring black thino spoor - Black Rhino Monitoring Volunteer Experience
Christopher using a stick that was measured later, to work out the width of black rhino spoor. This is a good way to distinguish between individual rhinos.
Setting up the camera trap in Liwonde National Park - Black Rhino Monitoring Volunteer Experience
Krisz setting up the camera trap with the Euphorbia feeding station.

Black Rhino Monitoring in Liwonde National Park

My most recent black rhino monitoring session turned out to be extremely eventful. After getting relatively strong signal for the dominant bull from the vehicle, the team decided to continue tracking him on foot. We walked through beautiful open Mopane forest following signal until we reached thick riverine vegetation. We approached extremely carefully and saw him resting in the bushes in font of us. The thick bush creates a circling wind that can quickly alert a Black Rhino of your presence, so we quietly took our places in the trees, hoping not to startle the animal.

Black Rhino Monitoring at iMfolozi Game Reserve copyright Chris Kelly
Black Rhino Monitoring. Photo: Chris Kelly

After a few minutes he got up from his resting place and moved off quickly. We were able to confirm that this bull was healthy and his neck was clear of snares. To check that his legs and feet were also clear, we moved to quickly inspect his resting place. A rhino that has been snared often leaves traces of blood, or drag marks, in resting places. There was no evidence that this bull had been snared so we headed back to the vehicle.

Read more about Volunteering with Rhinos

On our way back to the vehicle after our black rhino monitoring session, we passed a waterhole and noticed that the game paths were lined with snares. We spent an hour scanning the surrounding areas and ended up collecting 32 wire snares that were intended to catch small to medium antelope, but regularly injure larger animals that stumble across them. It’s unfortunate that snares are a regular occurrence in Liwonde National Park, but we can be glad that we saw them that morning and were able to remove them.

Liwonde National Park Malawi

Driving back to camp after the successful black rhino monitoring session, we came across a huge congregation of elephants. Up to 100 elephants surrounded us, some calves only a few months old. It was an incredible sighting, the icing on the cake.

Counting snares - Black Rhino Monitoring Volunteer Experience
Scouts Maxwell and Christopher counting the snares we collected one morning.
Elephant sighting close to camp - Liwonde National Park, Liwonde - Black Rhino Monitoring Volunteer Experience
After a successful morning of black rhino monitoring we had an incredible elephant sighting, not far from camp.

Post and photos: Cazz Kimber