STUDENTS from a Newquay college will negotiate prides of lions and herds of elephants as they track rhinos as part of a mission to save the animals from extinction.
The young conservationists, from Cornwall College Newquay, have been given the rare opportunity to observe black and white rhinos in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park later this year.
Guided by two expert trackers, they will traverse dangerous terrain on foot to monitor the health of the creatures and capture tiny amounts of DNA for storage on a worldwide database.
They will completely immerse themselves in the South African culture by experiencing the food, learning local dances and visiting a tribal village. The students will also learn safari guide techniques, conservation skills and wildlife photography techniques.
Robyn Silcock, animal behaviour and psychology foundation degree programme manager, said: “Walking safaris are extremely rare for obvious reasons, but this opportunity is too good to miss. Our students will be funding and participating in a real life conservation project, protecting some of the world’s most endangered animals.
“We are extremely lucky to be given this opportunity and the two expert safari guides who will be with us, will teach us tracking skills and show us how a method called ear notching, helps to monitor and protect both rhino species.”
In 1945 the black rhino became extinct in Kruger National Park, which is approximately the size of Wales, due to poachers killing the animals and taking their horns for Chinese traditional medicine and Middle Eastern dagger handles.
Through conservation efforts 81 black rhino were reintroduced between 1971 and 1989 and it is estimated that the current number now stands at approximately 300.
Similarly the white rhino was once on the brink of extinction in South Africa with only 50 remaining. That figure is now approximated at just over 20,000. This vast increase in population is due to the huge efforts of various conservation projects.
Specialist safari guide Cameron Pearce said: “The conservation efforts of the Kruger National Park are essential if we are to save these two species. If the park does not manage its population and monitor its progress, then both species of rhino could become extinct once and for all.
“When the students join us for their safari, we will be tracking black or white rhinos on foot. This is a unique experience and involves: identifying the rhino’s tracks, following them through a range of difficult terrain and remaining undetected by the rhino itself. During the operation we will take the opportunity to perform general health checks on the animals while the ear-notching is being performed.
“The tiny pieces of tissue will be sent for DNA testing and recorded onto a world-wide genetic database. Creating a unique pattern of small notches in the rhino’s ears will enable us to identify this particular animal in the future and monitor its progress and breeding success.”
Animal Husbandry and Welfare Foundation Degree student Kimberley Pickin, from Newquay, said: “I am unbelievably excited, because I have dreamt about travelling to Africa since I can remember. This kind of in-field experience is invaluable to us.”