As a subspecies to the functionally extinct northern white rhino, the southern white rhino is a critical part of their recovery programme. It is a southern white rhino female that will act as a surrogate to the northern white rhino embryos, when the time is right, as efforts continue to bring the species back from extinction.
That is why a small group of southern white rhinos live in the enclosure alongside Najin and Fatu - the last two northern white rhinos in the world. As more progress in the recovery of the northern white rhino is made, it is vital to ensure that the female southern white rhinos living in the enclosure are ready for implantation as soon as it is possible. This means that we try and prevent any males from mating with them. It is for this reason that in February we removed the last two sub-adult males – Barry and Bubbles – from the enclosure before they could reach sexual maturity. Over the years, seven males have been removed from the enclosure to avoid breeding and territorial fights.
Rhino relocation on Ol Pejeta is always a collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), our veterinarian team, the rhino patrol unit, and the logistics team. Once a rhino is identified for relocation, the various teams must ensure that it is healthy enough for darting and that the right equipment is available (such as a capture truck for moving the rhino, and the transport crates for containment). Usually, rhinos are darted from a helicopter but since the southern white rhino enclosure is only 700 acres, the team was able to dart both Barry and Bubbles safely from the ground. Once they had been safely sedated, both were ear-notched - an exercise that involves cutting unique patterns on the rhino’s ear, to make it easier for the rangers to identify and monitor them in the larger conservancy. Transmitters were also fitted to their horns in case of a poaching incident.
Barry and Bubbles were moved without complication to areas where there was plenty of forage and water, and just as importantly - an area not already occupied by a dominant male rhino. We are happy to report that both Barry and Bubbles have settled on the eastern side of the conservancy and are so far doing well.