Ol Pejeta Enlists Celebrities to Help Conserve Northern White Rhino


Ol Pejeta Enlists Celebrities to Help Conserve Northern White Rhino

The Ol Pejeta ranch, a 90,000-acre private wildlife conservancy, framed on the equator and nestled between the snow capped Mount Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range offers a rare treat for animal lovers who want to see three of the remaining northern white rhinos in the world.

The star attraction here is Sudan, the only male northern white rhino left in the world; his importance has seen him guarded round the clock since he was brought here in 2009 from the Czech Republic.

The species once occurred in parts of Africa and as late as 1960 there were more that 2,000 rhinos remaining, but widespread poaching decimated the population according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The conservancy which is also home to elephants, various predators and also prides itself as the largest black rhino sanctuary has started an online campaign and is working with prominent personalities around the world to raise money to create awareness on the northern white rhino species.

Elodie Sampere, is the head of conservation marketing at Ol Pejeta.

“So you know because Sudan is the last male northern white rhino in the world we have had a lot of media attention. This has created some attention, there some stars that have been interested in coming to visit him so they are lending their star power basically to help this cause and to help raise awareness for the species and not just the northern white rhino. You know what we need to keep in mind in Kenya is that we are playing a big part in keeping the black rhinos,” she said.

Last year Suni, a male at the wildlife conservancy died bringing the famed African species one step closer to extinction.

Northern white rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Northern white rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Suni was not poached, but the cause of his death was unclear at the time. He was one of the last two breeding males in the world as no northern white rhinos are believed to have survived in the wild.

While there are thousands of southern white rhinos still roaming the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching have drastically cut northern white rhino numbers.

At least 18 celebrities from different parts of the globe are expected to visit Sudan at Ol Pejeta in the next few months.

Prominent Egyptian actor and producer Khaled Abol Naga recently visited the sanctuary and says he plans to use his influence to highlight the plight of the rhino to an international audience.

“It took 1.5 million years for this species to develop and it took 60 years by humans to make them extinct. It is mind boggling and I think the world must find a way to end this crisis of poaching to begin with and specifically for the white rhino,” he said.

Northern white rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Northern white rhino at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Wildlife conservationists have struggled to reverse a decline in numbers of several African species, undermined by ferocious poaching by gangs which mostly ship the ivory to Asia.

In 2013, about 59 rhinos were poached in Kenya, a country famous for its sprawling Maasai Mara game park and abundant wildlife.

Rhino horn sold on the streets of major Asian cities was more valuable than gold or platinum at the time, with traders asking for about $65,000 per kg of rhino horn.

Researchers are now looking at artificial techniques of reproduction that could provide a chance of survival for the northern white rhino.

“I mean it’s evident that Sudan is going to die you know we are hoping that it is not going to be straight away but he is going to die. What we are planning on now is extracting his sperm on a regular basis so that we have a good storage of it. There are other places in the world that have sperms stored from other male rhinos so you know it’s not the end yet we haven’t reached the end. When these protocols are developed it could be this year, it could be in five years, it could be in ten years when these protocols of probably IVF or artificial insemination are developed we would have some sperm to use to move forward and to try to bring the species back from extinction,” said Sampere.

Poaching has surged in the last few years across sub-Saharan Africa, where gangs kill elephants and rhinos to feed Asian demand for ivory and horns for use in folk medicines.

A 2014 U.N. and Interpol report estimated that about 20,000 to 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa every year, out of a total population of as many as 650,000.

“If we lose the battle for the male white rhino we should not lose the battle to raise awareness and try to stop the poaching. Next thing will be the black rhino, next thing will be the elephants. If we continue by the rate that poaching is happening right now we are going to lose the elephants pretty soon in five years or so. It’s crazy and that’s why we should move. I hope we will win this battle for the rhino and save the species but also if not let us have the awareness to stop this from happening to another species before it happens to us,” said Naga.

Kenya’s parliament has passed strict anti-poaching laws and the government has beefed up security at parks to stop poaching, which threatens the vital tourism industry.

The country has also started using high-tech surveillance equipment including drones to track poaching gangs and keep tabs on elephants and rhinos roaming its sweeping national parks.

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Ol Pejeta Enlists Celebrities to Help Conserve Northern White Rhino
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Story By Lisa Kamau
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