By Seth Mwaniki @MwanikiM
It is an unpleasantly cold morning when a battery of journalists, both local and international, in company of kids drawn from Muthuini and Labura primary schools that are adjacent to Solio Ranch gather outside the main entrance to the conservancy for a brief.
After getting instructions and ‘signing off’ lives for liability reasons, everyone boards the waiting tour vans and the ride inside the expansive ranch kicks off. The activity this day entails locating two baby rhinos for a naming exercise for adoption purposes.
The four-wheel drive vehicles take onto the path of the ranch, making random stopovers for us to gawk at the wild animals grazing, or hunting in the fields.
After one and half hour drive, the baby rhinos are yet to be traced but, nevertheless, both black and white mature rhinos in couples could be seen either meandering in the ranch or just resting on their feet with their foreheads interlocked, maybe as a sign of intimacy.
Later on, the rhino calves and their parents are spotted, luckily close to each other. The guides call for all to remain silent as we approach, to avoid scaring them away. The pupils are left to observe the animals for a while and then suggest names from their physical features.
It’s not an easy task as the animals are not as cooperative, once they realise they have company. Presently, they decide they had enough of the photo opps and scamper off, with the calves at the front, perhaps to protect them from any danger that may decided to follow.
The children, though, are able to name the three-month old black rhino, Kinza, meaning hidden treasure and the white baby rhino, Kent, meaning white. Frank Writh, the Director of Rhino Watch Safari Lodge, says that should the country fail to protect rhinos, which are a part of Africa’s big five, it will increasingly become difficult to convince animal lovers to set foot in the country.
Writh, a German who has been in the country for over 30 years working in the tourism sector, adds that there is need to create an emotional connection between the people and the rhinos in order to develop the interest to protect them. He says that involving kids who most of the time tend to be deeply affectionate is the ultimate long term solution against poaching.
“We want to create an emotional connection between the animals and the members of the community through kids who should later be given time to visit the animals as they assess their progress,” he says. He also suggests that the government comes up with a programme where 25 percent of the money generated from tourists visiting the nation is set aside for rhino awareness.
“Part of the money can be used to facilitate some teachers to go round schools in the country teaching pupils about rhinos and the importance of protecting them,” he says, adding that an amount of the same fund can be used as bonus payment for rangers who ensure that no animal is killed by poachers in a number of months as a way of motivation.
Solio Conservancy is one of the most succesful privately owned rhino breeding centers in the world. Over the 40 years it has been in existence, Solio has provided 93 black and 52 white rhinos to other reserves while maintaining a healthy population itself.
Courtesy of mediamaxnetwork.co.ke