The Black Rhino of the Great Fish River Valley
By Angus Sholto Douglas

In the year 2000, a year before Kwandwe opened its doors to the public, the owners of Kwandwe travelled to the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Auction in Hluhluwe Game Reserve. The owner, the late Carl De Santis was enthralled by the six Black Rhino standing in their pens munching on leaves while hundreds of people filed past them to inspect the individuals that would be sold as a group of six to make up a founding herd on a new property. Thankfully Kwandwe’s bid was successful, and the six Black Rhino were translocated to Kwandwe and released into our purpose built holding bomas, where they stayed and acclimatised to the feed offerings of the Great Fish River Valley. Two of our staff members, Chicken Msila and Joseph Loteni took turns to stay with the rhino, feeding them, keeping them company, even singing to them to help keep them calm and allow them to settle into their new home. They developed a very close bond with these rhinos and during the time spent with them gave each of them a nickname, which are still used today. All of the rhino on Kwandwe have numbered ID codes for monitoring purposes, but the founders are still known by their nicknames from 23 years ago.

two black rhinos in a spekboom thicket


They settled in beautifully. As a species they thrive in our vegetation, known as succulent thicket. The Black Rhino is a browser, and the dominant vegetation is a smorgasbord of culinary delights in Black Rhino life. Some of the plants they eat are toxic to other species, so it is not always what we might think of as appetising that gets the Black Rhino’s digestive juices excited, but rather the spiky, woody, thorny mouthfuls that are more appealing to the Black Rhino.

close-up of a black rhino


The original individuals settled on the Southern side of the river, where they actually bred at a higher-than expected rate, and their numbers began to grow. When the new owners of Kwandwe, the Chouest Family, bought Kwandwe, we were able to add another six Black Rhino to the Northern Bank of Kwandwe and the population has continued to flourish since. From those 12 individuals, Kwandwe now has what is known as a “Key 2 population” of endangered Black Rhino!


“Key 2” is a population of over 50 individuals which makes it a biologically significant population. The “Key 1 population” of the Great Fish River Reserve (our eastern neighbour), makes our greater area of the Great Fish River Valley one of the most important Black Rhino conservation areas in Africa!

black rhino population


Our exciting plans to expand Kwandwe have been driven primarily for the benefit of this one species, to return even more of their historic habitat back to these iconic animals for them to utilise once more.

great fish river valley black rhino


Unlike Africa’s population of White Rhino, the population of Black Rhino is growing, and the IUCN now estimates the figures at 6195. While this is extremely positive, the sobering thought is that there were over 100,000 in the 1960’s!
We at Kwandwe take our responsibility to care for and protect this endangered species very seriously, and salute our wonderful team of Rhino Monitors, pilots, vets, Animal Protection Unit and our K9 Reaction Unit, all of whom work towards the single goal of taking care of our rhino. To this end we formed the Kwandwe Rhino Conservation Trust. This Non-Profit’s task is to support the behind the scenes work we do to fulfil our obligation to conserve the Black Rhino of the Great Fish River Valley and do our utmost to ensure not only their survival, but their continued success here for generations to come.