CNN’s ‘Inside Africa’ Explores Rhino Conservation in Kenya

Press release from CNN - Nairobi, 20th November 2015.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya is a sanctuary for many animals, including two species of critically-endangered rhinos. This week, ‘Inside Africa’ gets up-close with the last male northern white rhino in the world, and learns how conservationists have been able to bring back the population of black rhinos.

From medical experts to the Maasai cricket team, ‘Inside Africa’ meets the people who are doing their part to protect such rare mammals from extinction and shine a light on environmental issues.

The programme opens by meeting Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world, at his home in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 360 square kilometre space and a sanctuary for many animals. These are extraordinary times for Sudan, as a team of medical experts from around the world try a procedure that could put his life at risk, but ultimately may save his species. Park Ranger Zacharia Mutai tells ‘Inside Africa’: "He's 42 years old. So, we need to take care of him so we don't have to lose him. If we lose him, that's the end of it."

Richard Vigne, CEO of The Ol Pejeta Conservancy explains to the programme: "When the opportunity came to try and rescue the northern white rhino from extinction and play a part in the process, it was obviously interesting for us to try to get involved.”

NWR in post

                            The remaining northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta.

The northern white rhino population has been devastated more than most species of rhino because governments in the areas where they lived, often due to civil war, were slow to crack down on poaching. Vinge tells the programme about Sudan: “When he first came here, he was a territorial male. He was active and able to mate. So he mated with the females several times. But unfortunately he we were never able to get a successful pregnancy."

The Ol Pejeta medical team has decided their best and safest option is to take sperm from Sudan. Doctor, Stephen Ngulu veterinarian, tells ‘Inside Africa’: "We are very optimistic that we can hopefully carry out that procedure successfully, and be able to get some viable sperm. Sudan is very old, so our hopes are not 100 per cent."

The programme learns that due to the lack of female northern white rhinos the best hope is the genetically similar southern white rhino, but only if Sudan’s sperm and one of the females eggs can be fertilised in vitro. Jan Stejskal, from Dvur Kralove Zoo in Czech Republic (the owner of the rhinos) tells the programme: “This embryo would be put inside a surrogate mother, which would be a southern white rhino in origin. So, this is a possible way how to save the northern white rhino… This way has never been done before. It has been done with horses, with cattle, but not with rhinos. Due to this reason, it is quite challenging."

‘Inside Africa’ learns that some sperm has been saved previously, meaning if science can figure out how to freeze the female’s eggs this species might just be paused rather than wiped out forever. While the northern white rhino understandably gets the most attention, it’s the black rhino that’s one of the big success stories of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. There were only 20 black rhinos in 1993 but today the number is 107.

Wildlife supervisor Wilson Murithi tells the programme: "The reason why this place was so successful is that the habitat itself, there's a lot of food. The management, the security aspect-we have very few cases of the poaching." ‘Inside Africa’ sees that the security teams in the conservation are always moving. The unit monitors wildlife with a rule, that every black rhino on Ol Pejeta must be seen at least once every three days. The rangers in this unit are often the first line of defense against outside threats.

                                    Black rhinos strolling on the Ol Pejeta Plains.

The head of security at the conservation tells the programme: "When you're patrolling, you look for any strange footprint. Your report anything that you hear, so for instance gunshots can be reported. That's why you have some people deployed strategically in the conservancy, just in case you need a team to respond to that particular form of information that you have."

There is one group of local Massai who found a slightly different way to highlight the effects of rhino poaching. They swapped their spears for bats and are the subject of a new movie named after their cricket team: ‘Warriors Film’. ‘Warriors Film’ documents the resistance the players face from elders in their community, while also showing the inspiration and hope they symbolise for young people.

The captain of the team tells ‘Inside Africa’: “Cricket has opened a lot of doors to the Maasai cricket warriors, and not just to us, but our village and to the conservation world… We love nature. We feel we are connected, daily to the nature. And if we clear all the wild and bring about deforestation and kill the animals, then some people will be effected. The Maasai people will be affected. The world will be affected."

‘Inside Africa’, Friday 20 November at 2030 on CNN International