Apr 302007
Authors: Emily Polak

If a Rhino were running loose in Fort Collins, Fort Collins Police Services probably doesn’t have a plan to capture the beast.

Geoffrey Wahungu, of Kenya, might have an idea.

Wahungu spoke to CSU students Monday about conservation efforts in Africa and told students of Africa’s volunteer force called “The Rhino Patrol,” a group charged with recovering those that escape the Sweetwater Black Rhino Reserve in Kenya, located near the equator.

“It’s a very interesting activity,” he said of rounding up Rhinos that haven’t been seen for five days or more.

Wahungu is a professor in the department of Wildlife Management at Moi University in Kenya and works at the reserve, which is working to increase the black rhino population by five percent each year to reach 1,000 new rhinos by 2020.

“Species diversity isn’t about Africa, it isn’t about the US, it is about the world,” Wahungu said.

In the past 30 years, the global rhino population has gone from more than 20,000 to less than 3,000, and the animals are located in only four countries around the world.

“Most people want to see them (rhinos) exist,” said Kenneth Wilson, professor and interim department head of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

Many of the rhinos in the world live on sanctuaries like Sweetwater and are gradually released into the wild. By living on a sanctuary, the animals can be protected, studied and kept track of, Wahungu said.

Wahungu presented research that showed elephants and rhinos are avoiding each other and that elephants are damaging foliage that acts as a food source for rhinos. The sanctuary has seen a 20 percent loss in trees between 1998 and 2005.

“Conservation management approaches are biologically, socially, economically and politically sustainable,” Wahungu said. “We want to bear in mind that there are other animals and people outside the fences.”

Local leadership and involvement are important in wildlife conservation, Wilson said.

“Their (African’s) science and understanding is improving, and natives are getting involved,” Wilson said. “We have much more funding, but we still struggle with conservation.”

Sweetwater has worked with more than 300 volunteers who are trained to observe the rhinos and report findings about their behavior.

“It is pretty amazing what they have been able to do, and I think we can learn a lot,” said Jen Garner, a wildlife conservation major.

The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at CSU sponsored Wahungu’s presentation. And some students who attended said they were very interested in his efforts to conserve the rare species.

“It is impossible to stress how important conservation is,” Garner said. “There are a massive amount of animals there (in Africa), and I’d love to be able to work with them.”

Kenneth Wilson, professor and interim department head, said students in the department are passionate about working with conservation groups.

“Our students are very, very active and have a real passion for trying to figure out ways that humans and wildlife can survive together,” Wilson said.

Staff writer Emily Polak can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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