The area with rhinos in the Lowveld region of southern Zimbabwe is over 1.3 million acres (500,000 hectares) and presently holds over 440 black rhinos (Diceros bicornis minor) and 250 white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) representing 85% of the Zimbabwean rhino population. This rhino range extends from Bubye Valley Conservancy in the west through Save Valley Conservancy (SVC) to the Chipinge Safari Area near the Mozambique border, 200 miles (320 kilometres) to the east of Bubye.
LRT works to increase both black and white rhino numbers and range in the Lowveld region. Zimbabwe has been facing a rhino poaching crisis and in the last five years over 150 rhinos have been poached. To help reduce poaching losses LRT intensively tracks and monitors rhinos to confirm their on-going wellbeing; treats rhinos with snare and bullet wounds; assists authorities with prosecuting poachers; and translocates rhinos from high-risk areas to safer locations when necessary.
LRT also works to raise community awareness and support for rhino conservation through rural schools. Over 140 rural primary schools are part of this program. This is important work as the long term survival of rhinos depends on the people who live with them. Unless rhinos are seen as having value to these communities they will have little reason to help protect them or maintain land for rhinos to live on. To help establish this value LRT has created a community rhino endowment. Under this project LRT helps rural communities living next to rhino areas to gain a true stake-holding in rhino conservation by generating businesslike returns to communities for rhino calves born. The communities receive incentives for rhino breeding in the form of direct support for schools in their areas.
Rhinos have been the Lowveld’s flagship or umbrella species for wildlife-based operations, since their translocation to this region in the late 1980s and early 1990s catalysed the formation of the large conservancies. Therefore it is appropriate to use rhinos as a kind of test case for the development of new shareholding arrangements in which the rhino population is converted into an asset base for a public-private-community partnership that is orientated towards rhino breeding.
By meeting the habitat and management needs of rhinos, a broad range of biodiversity can be concurrently conserved and a high national and international profile can be maintained for these wildlife-based projects.
Apart from ecotourism value (currently deflated in Zimbabwe) and safari hunting value (not realized in Zimbabwe at present because rhinos are not legally hunted), the major economic value that can be developed for rhinos is the global asset value of the species. To express that, in tangible terms, a link must be made between the wealthier, western communities who perceive the existence value of rhinos and can afford to contribute to that, and the stakeholder groups within the Lowveld who are making the land-use changes that impact on the opportunities for rhino populations to expand. This link can be reinforced by the willingness of the western communities to facilitate Africa’s rural development.