By Atta.

This week on Inside Africa, CNN International visits North Luangwa National Park, the heart of Zambia’s black rhino conservation effort. There were once around 12,000 black rhinos in Zambia but the population was wiped out, with rhinos being declared extinct in the country in 1998. Since 2003, conservationists have been working hard to reintroduce the animals and are now discovering new ways to sustain their growing population. Rodgers Lubilo, the Natural Resources Community Manager at North Luangwa, tells the programme about Zambia’s love for the black rhino, “We have missed the black rhino in this country. And that’s why what we are doing in North Luangwa is loved by everybody because we are getting back the species that everyone wants to see.”

Ed Sayer, the programme manager at North Luangwa, tells CNN about Zambia’s place in African rhino conservation, “There’s approximately 20,000 white rhinos in Africa, and less than 5,000 black rhinos. That’s the major difference. Zambia we’re still minnows in the black rhino world. The leading countries are South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Namibia but we’re coming up. Now we’re siting between 50 and 100 [black rhinos] today.”

The conservationists are dedicated to their work, using a mixture of technology and on-foot tracking to cover the 22,000 square kilometre park. Sayer explains how demanding the typical schedule is, “The aircraft will be in the air three, four times a week, and the scouts on the ground will be out all day every day. There’s a rotation, so once one team comes out, another team comes in. It’s relentless, it’s nonstop.”

With so much land to cover, and a constant rotation of staff, over 400 scouts are employed from the local area to protect the wildlife on the ground. Sayer describes the importance of employing local people, “The best way to protect this area is through the people and we really try hard to ensure that all scouts that come and work here are employed from their local communities. It’s that sense of ownership and that sense of pride which we have to just maintain and ensure that people remain involved to kind of manage these areas sustainably.”

Another important part of North Luangwa National Park’s local impact is their educational programme. Since it started in 2003, it has reached around 2,500 children. Inside Africa meets Michael Eliko, a conservation education officer, who talks about why education is such an important part of the park. He says, “The young generation are the future leaders. Because if we teach them, we show them real animals in real life, it will be easy when they grow up to conserve without waiting for someone to ask them to do that, because they will grow up with that love.”

The conservation at North Luangwa National Park is important for the local area, for Zambia as a whole, and for black rhino numbers across the world. Rodgers Lubilo emphasises his own feelings about the project, “Personally for me it’s something that I’m ready to die for. We feel so proud. We are excited and it’s encouraging and we just hope that others can one day have one opportunity to see the black rhino.”

Source: africa.com

Photo by Geran de Klerk