Why oldest female rhino faces imminent danger

25Dec 2016
Edward Qorro
Guardian On Sunday
Why oldest female rhino faces imminent danger

CONSERVATIONISTS and wildlife experts in Ngorongoro Crater are thinking of releasing into the wild Fausta, a female black rhino believed to be the oldest in the world.

Aged 63, Fausta had to seek refuge inside a cage after she was wounded by hyenas and perched by oxpeckers.
But conservationists said exposing the rhino to hyenas could put her life in danger again.

The female black rhino, which has never given birth to any calves in its entire life, is part of the more than 50 rhinos found inside the crater.

In an interview with The Guardian on Sunday yesterday, the chief conservator with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), Dr Freddy Manongi, said they were mulling releasing the female rhino into the wild as its gaping wounds caused by the hyenas were now healing.

“At the moment we are thinking of freeing it from the cage and we shall ultimately do that,” he said.
Fausta’s slow and sluggish movements are said to have attracted the hyenas to attack it, he said, noting that the NCAA had to put the besieged animal in a cage to protect it from further attacks as it was on record for being the oldest black rhino in the world.

“The hyenas must have taken advantage of her frailty, which is why they attacked her, but we are determined to let it live for many more years,” he said.

Demystifying Fausta’s age, Dr Manongi said the female black rhino, which is believed not to have produced a calf since 1984, was able to live that long because it had not endured any biological and ecological stresses common to other rhinos.

The stresses include giving birth to a group of calves and overcoming frequent attacks from other animals, he elaborated.
Wildlife experts say a female black rhino can have one baby every three years on average where the gestation period is 18 months, and the baby calf is born weighing between 65 and 90 pounds.

“Fausta can live that long because the life expectancy of female black rhinos is higher than male rhinos,” he observed.
Fausta’s thrust into the limelight comes three weeks after wildlife enthusiasts in Kenya mourned the death of Solio, the country’s oldest rhino which died at the age of 42 years, in which case Fausta has far surpassed the average wild black rhino lifespan of 30-35 years.

It also comes hot on the heels of the formation of a special task force directed by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa to probe the mysterious disappearance of John, a male black rhino that was transferred from the Ngorongoro crater to to the Sasakawa Black Rhino Sanctuary in the Grumeti-Serengeti game reserve where it reportedly died.

Rhinos are among the most poached animals in East Africa, with their population dwindling, compelling authorities to keep them in protected areas.

Rhinos have over the years been hunted nearly to extinction due to demand for their horns which are used in folk medicine as an aphrodisiac, among other properties.

The horns are sold as trophies or for decoration, but more often find their way to traditional Chinese medicine parlors.
The Tanzania rhino management plan developed in 1998 set a goal of increasing the population of black rhinos of 60 individuals to 100 individuals by 2018 through an active metapopulation management regime.

‘Save the Rhino,’ a UK-based conservation charity, estimates that there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the group says, there are 29,000 rhinos in the wild.