Mkomazi National Park

Project LocationMkomazi National Park, Tanzania
Project TypeCommunity conservation initiatives, Endangered species protection
Endangered SpeciesBlack rhino (9), African wild dog (52)
Land Area Protected3300 km2
Benefiting Locally100
Local People Employed50
Schools Supported24 (hundreds pupils)

Mkomazi National Park

In 1988, the renowned conservationist, Tony Fitzjohn and the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust were given a mandate by the Tanzanian Government to rehabilitate the vast 1,300 square mile Mkomazi Reserve in northern Tanzania, on the border of Kenya's Tsavo National Park.  The reserve once boasted enormous herds of elephant and other species, but in the years prior to Fitzjohn’s arrival, the land had become beset with the problems of over-grazing by cattle, poaching and decimation of the habitat through illegal burning for cultivation.

Fitzjohn’s aim was to re-secure the reserve as a haven for wildlife. His first priority was to rebuild an entire infrastructure with 500 miles of road and an airfield. Water sources had to be sited and pumped, dams constructed and desilted. Game rangers were recruited and equipped, and an entire radio network was installed to be used by the rangers and local community.

In addition, a 45 sq km electrically fenced sanctuary was erected and this is now home to a successful captive-breeding programme for two of Africa's most critically endangered species - the black rhino and the African wild dog. 1997 saw the arrival of the first four black rhino and another four were transported in 2001 from South Africa.  

The real impact of Fitzjohn’s successful rehabilitation of this vast tract of Africa has been seen in the elephant numbers. Vast herds of elephant once migrated north from Mkomazi, across the border and into Tsavo National Park in Kenya. During the 1980’s, these herds were decimated by poaching. Mkomazi, previously home to 3,500 elephant, had seen its population reduced to just 11 individuals. A combination of the ivory ban and increased security of Mkomazi now means that the dry season elephant count in Mkomazi has reached 200-300 elephant peaking at nearly 1,000 in the wet season. The recovery in Tsavo was even more remarkable although both areas are interdependent and the herds regularly migrate between the two protected areas. A recent elephant census was carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and the results recorded a rise in the elephant populations in the Tsavo/Mkomazi ecosystem.  Today, Mkomazi, together with Tsavo National Park, forms one of the largest protected ecosystems in Africa. 

Environmental Education

The Mkomazi Game Reserve Outreach Programme encompasses 41 villages in three districts and two regions that all border the Reserve, in total approximately 200,000 people. The programme was started with the aim of ensuring that the local communities would benefit from the presence of the game reserve and come to look upon wild animals as a non-consumptive resource. 

The programme has helped to build and equip local primary schools and clinics, has facilitated the formation of women’s groups and has sponsored the Mkomazi Game Reserve soccer team. Recently, with the help of Tusk, Mkomazi launched the ‘Rafiki ya Faru’ (Friend of the Rhino) bus which travels to schools in surrounding villages acting as a mobile classroom and bringing pupils to the newly constructed education centre in the middle of the rhino sanctuary. The aim is to raise awareness for conservation and to try to help change local communities attitudes towards their environment through teaching and seeing the wildlife, particularly rhino, for themselves. 

New Rhino at Mkomazi

Tusk’s Royal Patron, The Duke of Cambridge, recently lent his support to a historic airlift of three rare black rhino from Port Lympne Animal Park in Kent to Mkomazi National Park in northern Tanzania.  The Duke gave an impassioned interview to the BBC calling for the world to halt the illegal trade in rhino horn and expressed his deep concern for the escalation of poaching which now seriously threatens the species with extinction. During his brief visit to Port Lympne, which is operated by the Aspinall Foundation, the Duke met the keepers and fed the rhino, which were soon to be translocated to the heavily protected sanctuary in Tanzania.

The translocation started early on the morning of 16th June with the three rhino, Zawardi, Monduli, and Grumeti, being individually and carefully coaxed into crates built specially for their long journey to Tanzania. Once safely in, they were lifted onto a waiting DHL transporter lorry and driven the short distance to Manston Airport. Here DHL had organized for one of their Boeing 757 live cargo aircraft, emblazoned with a large rhino sticker, to be ready for its precious cargo.

Accompanied by specialist rhino vet, Dr Pete Morkel and two rhino keepers, the three rhino finally arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport the following morning. In the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, the animals were slowly driven by road to their new home at Mkomazi, arriving some 24 hours after leaving Port Lympne.

We are delighted to report that all three rhino walked out of their crates and began feeding and drinking immediately. It is very much hoped that their arrival will provide an important new boost to the genetic diversity of Mkomazi’s existing rhino population.

It was a remarkable journey made possible thanks to months of planning and collaboration between The George Adamson Trust, The Aspinall Foundation, Tusk and DHL. Tusk Trust wishes to express its deep gratitude to DHL for their tremendous support in providing the dedicated DHL Boeing 757, without which this exercise could not have happened.

Tusk Support

Tusk Trust has been one of the main sponsors of the project for well over a decade. Support has been in the form of funding for game guard salaries, vehicles, machinery, fencing, and workshop equipment, as well as funds to cover translocation costs for wild dog and most recently help to build an environmental education centre and the purchase of a school bus to bring local children into the reserve. Recent contributions from Tusk have been put toward aircraft patrols; information gathered from the air is relayed to TANAPA HQ. Rangers then act immediately with the use of GPS coordinates, halting any illegal activity.

Notes from the field
The addition of the three black rhino from Port Lympne Wild Animal Park is a very important step forward for the genetic diversity in the Rhino Sanctuary at Mkomazi.

Through the efforts of Tusk Trust, the upswing in rhino poaching and the grim and horrendous reality of this in the field received enormous attention.

The rhino translocation itself was an incredibly professional operation, with the many years of experience from all those involved. Many thanks to The Aspinall Foundation, DHL, Tusk Trust, GAWPT and Dr Peter Morkel for their efforts in this historic event.
Tony Fitzjohn OBE, Project Director
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