Protecting the Black Rhino of Ol Pejeta

Friday 13 November 2020

No poaching for 3 years - the remarkable success of Ol Pejeta conservancy in protecting the largest population of black rhino in East and Central Africa.

Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy is famous for housing the last two northern white rhinos on the planet. However, it is also home to one of the largest populations of black rhino in the world, and has not lost a single rhino to poaching in three years. 

This remarkable success story is down to the tireless work of conservationists in Ol Pejeta and collaborative work by conservation charity Helping Rhinos in protecting one of the world’s most threatened species. The success of this project has lead to new challenges; the conservancy is currently over carrying capacity, which means more land is needed to protect natural habitat and ensure the future of breeding programmes. 

Rhinos are sensitive to location changes - which means it is not a case of simply relocating the rhinos from Ol Pejeta. Instead, an expansion of the conservancy and expanding natural habitat would provide key space for the continued growth of the black rhino population. ‘In order to continue monitoring the situation, we need more space for the dispersal of animals and move towards working with neighbours in the North to roll out rhino initiatives that benefit both human and rhino populations’, says Samuel Mutisya, Head of Conservation at Ol Pejeta. ‘Using an integrated model to ensure optimal land use for both conservation and local economies… the land becomes more profitable for its multiple uses’. 

""The levels of commitment by management and local staff to personally get involved is very high, through management providing training and support, monitoring the population and protecting every rhino, there is a high level of commitment and engagement… people go beyond the call of duty." "

Samuel Mutisya
Head of Conservation
Ol Pejeta Conservancy


Key to the success has been the considerable time and resource investment in anti-poaching measures on Ol Pejeta, such as the use of dogs, intense monitoring of each individual rhino and ensuring eyes-on confirmation of every individual at least once a week. 

Anti-poaching also requires the engagement of the local community, ‘the ability to forge strong relationships and gather intelligence is crucial to the work of conservationists’, says Simon Jones, CEO of Helping Rhinos. Ol Pejeta ensure 30% of all profits are re-invested into the local community as part of this effort. Through the use of initiatives like the integrated model for land usage, local communities remain key stakeholders in the conservation process.

Though in many ways the COVID-19 lockdown in Kenya helped the poaching situation, by limiting inter-state travel, it has presented new challenges to those on the ground. ‘Due to the economic impact of COVID’, says Mutisya, ‘many crimes may recur as a way of people securing their livelihoods’, and security has been heightened. There is also a need to ‘protect and manage staff… by maintaining separate teams, we ensure that any outbreak remains contained and the conservation work can still go ahead’. 

Such success in conservation does not come without a cost, and the human impact of looking after such a threatened species is hard-felt. ‘It is like a war zone’, says Jones, ‘and every day ani-poaching squads are putting themselves at risk… the training required to become a ranger is military-based, and there is considerable mental stress of operating in areas where poacher activity is high’. 

Ol Pejeta’s success in avoiding the disastrous poaching epidemic and growing a large and healthy black Rhino population has also been down to the help of organisations such as Helping Rhinos, the largest single contributor to Ol Pejeta’s rhino conservation work. ‘Protecting rhino is an expensive affair’, says Mutisya, ‘when you have 170+ rhino to look after, each costing thousands of dollars per year, it requires a joint effort to generate the resources required to provide equipment, uniforms for rangers, assessment of the species and assessing any potential dangers in good time’. 

Funding provided by Helping Rhinos has also made possible the creation of a mobile veterinary unit, responsible for veterinary care and able to deal with any problems that arise. 

Samuel Mutisya says, ’Helping Rhinos has been instrumental in achieving success in black rhino conservation’. 


article written by Cameron Scheijde

Find out more about the black rhino of Ol Pejeta Conservancy by joining Helpinging and Ol Pejeta for an SUNDOWNERS - LIVE & ON AIR - an online fundraiser to support 'Conservation in Crisis'.

The evening will include and exclusive feature on the black rhino of Ol Pejeta as well as a fascinating insight into the groundbreaking scientific research being pioneered to save the northern white rhino.

You will also enjoy a bespoke, contemparary dane piece by Nairobi born, international ballet sensation Joel Kioko and a lIVE performance from local Maasai dancers.

And don't forget to check out the stunning items available in the Sundowners Auction.