The SAWC has embarked on a new rhino tagging initiative in its study focus area using the newest technology, a VHF ear tag.

Previously with its rhino capture operations, the emphasis was on rhino notching, which has worked well to date, but of late there have been some concerns raised about notching operations being duplicated in other reserves, leading to a level of inaccuracy.

Conventional Very High Frequency (VHF) radio telemetry will eliminate this risk. The team at SAWC anticipates that this new approach will have a significant role in rhino conservation and monitoring in the foreseeable future, although attaching transmitters to rhinos has been problematic in the past.

Historically, rhino have been fitted with VHF ankle or foot collars and more recently, predominantly with horn implants. The foot collars have proven to be effective but in many cases have led to rhino injuries, mainly because of chafing and injury as the animal’s skin is very soft in that area. “We have seen some past and more recent events unfold where some rhino have had significant injuries sustained through the use of this type of ankle collar deployment, so we have opted to stay away from this option,” says CEO Theresa Sowry.

Although the VHF horn implant option works well, in many cases the horn tends to split at the implant point due to horn growth and horn wear.

“We’ll be deploying the newest technology, a VHF ear tag. Although the ear tags have been available for a few years now, they have not really been tested comprehensively on rhino yet. The SAWC will be testing this new technology with VHF telemetry equipment fitted to our Savannah aircraft. These tagged rhino will then also be able to be monitored from the ground by the SAWC students,” says Theresa.

These state of the art tags will also play a vital role in the security of these animals.

“Although we have a huge database on rhino distribution in our area, recorded on our daily patrol flights, little is known about individual animal movement, territory, and home range. White rhino tend to move a lot further than was previously documented and reported. Some interesting and valuable studies should come out of this exercise,” she notes.