Lonely Planet Writer

Award-winning project in Botswana brings rhinos back to their natural habitat

It is proof – if proof was needed – that nature and tourism can go hand in hand, playing a key role in protecting endangered species.

African White Rhinos

An award-winning project in Botswana by Wilderness Safaris has overseen the reintroduction of white and black rhinos to their natural habitat in the Okavango Delta, considered one of the seven natural wonders of Africa.

The project, which began in 2000, was originally envisaged as simply bringing the animal back to its natural home as part of a small scale expansion.

Black Rhino and calf in Namibia.
Black Rhino and calf in Namibia. Image by s9-4pr / CC BY 2.0

Herd numbers in South Africa were increasing and the future of the animal seemed safe. However, increased poaching in recent years once again threatens the survival of the species and the importance of the Botswana project has grown.

Map Ives of Wilderness Safaris explained that the biodiversity of the Okavango Delta where they are based had been almost entirely intact … except for the two missing species of rhinoceros, which were both wiped out by man.

“This has been a personal motivation,” he told Lonely Planet. “Little did we know that what was intended to be a very small project would take on so much importance.

Rhinos in the Kruger National Park.
Rhinos in the Kruger National Park. Image by Chris Eason / CC BY 2.0

“None of us saw the dramatic and vicious poaching attacks that started in South Africa in 2008 and have increased in intensity since then and which have now started in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

“Suddenly, the project we started back then has taken on an urgency and importance for these species that is really massive and which is now the very backbone of what we are doing.”

He said that the project had reintroduced viable breeding numbers of both black and white rhinos to the wilds of Botswana.

Black rhino at Masai Mara National Park, Kenya.
Black rhino at Masai Mara National Park, Kenya. Image by JULIAN MASON / CC BY 2.0

Further rhinos are due but the dangers of poaching are ever present. “We need to put more men and aerial monitoring over these animals,” said Map Ives.

For their efforts, the company was awarded last month with a Tourism for Tomorrow Innovation Award by the World Travel and Tourism Council.