A celebration of rhinos and tourism

A celebration of rhinos and tourism

This September month celebrates both rhinos with World Rhino Day on 22nd September and Tourism day on 27th.

Here in the Waterberg both tourism and rhinos are important parts of our environment, both contributing to the essence of the Waterberg.

The Waterberg, with few big five destinations saw many tourism establishments develop around other products such as horse safaris, walking, hunting, and relaxation venues. The rhino, along with species such as buffalo, roan, and sable became the feature species of the Waterberg to attract and compete for international guests.

While there are a few big five destinations such as Welgevonden Game ReserveMarakele National Park and now Lapalala Wilderness the opportunity for development of big five reserves has always been very limited. As a consequence many reserves and game farms took up ownership of rhinos, in particular white rhinos in which to concentrate their tourism product around. As a result the Waterberg became a significant area for rhino conservation.

In terms of numbers the Waterberg probably had the third largest population of rhinos in South Africa (after Kruger area and Kwa-Zulu Natal). However, with the dramatic decrease of rhinos in both Kruger and Kwa-Zulu Natal it may be that the Waterberg holds the second largest number of rhinos in South Africa.

While there are San bushmen art within the Waterberg that depict black rhino which dates back hundreds if not thousands of years, the Waterberg was absent of rhino for a while due to the removal of game species in the early 1900s to make room for cattle farming.

In fact, the white rhino almost became extinct in the early 1900s and only a small population of less than 100 existed in Umfolozi in Kwa Zulu Natal. The dedicated efforts of Ian Player and others in the 1950s and 1960s saved the white rhino. As the numbers increased rhino were moved to other national parks and state owned reserves. But by 1972, all state owned protected areas that could have rhino had healthy rhino populations. However, Umfolozi still had a population of 1800 which was 400 to 500 more than what the park could accommodate.

The suggestion by parks board at the time was to cull the white rhino! Ian Player’s response to this suggestion was ‘over his dead body’!

Sending rhino to other countries to re-stock reserves was investigated, however, the logistics complicated and so private land in South Africa was seen as a possibility to take rhino. At the time some private land was introducing small antelope such as impala (as they compete little with cattle) on their properties for biltong hunting but this land was mostly used for cattle.
To encourage land owners to purchase rhino (and later other large game) to start some tourism enterprises the special purchase price in the late 1970s for white rhino was R200 each delivered.  This helped kick start the game industry in South Africa in the early 1980s. A decade later and the purchase price of white rhino had risen to R200,000 each.

The return of rhino to the Waterberg

White rhino first arrived in the Waterberg in the early 1980s when a small group was introduced to Rhinolands, later they introduced black rhino into the reserve as well.

The first black rhino for the Waterberg was purchased in an historical sale by the then Natal Parks Board in 1990. This was the first private sale of black rhino. The black rhino were far fewer in number than the white rhino and did not need the huge push to private land in order to accommodate the growing numbers. These black rhino were the first in the Waterberg for a hundred years. Lapalala Wilderness bought two male and three female for over two million rand. Since then the Waterberg has become a significant place for both white and black rhino with many private properties acquiring rhino, especially white rhino for their tourism enterprises.

Before poaching started in 2008, there was probably more than 40 properties that had rhino within the Waterberg. This number has dramatically fallen due to the poaching risk and costs that rhino ownership now necessitates. However, the rhino is still a pivotal species for the local tourism based economy in which many livelihoods depend upon.

This was the motivating factor that created Save the Waterberg Rhino – to be able to keep rhino alive in the Waterberg as both the tourism attraction and as part of the integral ecosystem on reserves that could accommodate them. By providing the support factor of increased security features within the Waterberg for rhino owners and other land owners Save the Waterberg Rhino has been able to help combat poaching activity.

As a tourist the Waterberg is a great place for seeing rhino. In fact it is not that uncommon to spot rhino just by driving through the Waterberg. However, if you want to see rhino it is best to book accommodation at a reserve that has rhino.

For information on visiting the Waterberg or seeing rhino you can email kelly@stwr.org.za or go to Waterberg Tourism a not for profit that helps provide tourism information about the Waterberg at www.waterbergtourism.com

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