Conservation Efforts towards the Protection of Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) and its Habitat in Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania

Emanuel Sisya

The Eastern Africa black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli) is a charismatic but critically endangered sub-Saharan African megaherbivore. In Tanzania, Mkomazi National Park (MKONAPA) is a home for critically endangered black rhino species. Despite this ecological significance, their existence in Mkomazi is still threatened by poaching activities coordinated by communities around the park and lack of adequate diet during dry seasons. In addition, environmental degradation practices done by villagers which involve cutting trees for charcoal burning, deforestation, and opening of new farms in areas surrounding the park have accelerated climate change and diminished the availability of rhino diet during dry seasons at MKONAPA. All of these lead to poor health and breeding performance of rhinos. Until now, no adequate conservation efforts have been directed toward ensuring the long-term management and conservation of black rhinos in the park.

Therefore, this calls for urgent conservation efforts to evaluate the perception of communities towards rhino conservation and collecting seeds from natural plants preferred by rhinos for ecological restoration. Assessment of community awareness on the conservation importance of black rhinos will provide information on understanding the community awareness and willingness to protect black rhinos and their habitat. Awareness education on the important of rhinos as flagship species will be provided to communities focusing on engaging them in positive environmental actions that support the long-term security of the black rhinos. The actions will involve training communities on different types of income-generating activities which include tree nurseries and beekeeping projects.

Since it is known that collecting seeds from natural plant populations is a key tool for ecological restoration, fast-growing native seeds from known preferred plants by black rhinos and seeds for hardwood trees for fuel (charcoal and firewood) and building materials (poles and timber) will be collected inside the park while the missing seeds will be purchased from Tanzania Forestry Services (TFS) Agency. Seeds will be given to communities to establish nurseries for the same on village land. Tree seedlings from nurseries will be used for habitat restoration inside the park and in villages, hence biodiversity improved. Communities will be involved in establishing and operating the nurseries. Tree seedlings will be sold to different stakeholders as part of promoting restoration and form part of their income. Also, bee honey and its products from beekeeping project will be sold and the income generated will improve community livelihoods and bring a sense of ownership for their natural heritage.

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