Conservation | Jun 2024


Get involved by sponsoring this vital conservation work
White rhino and calf in the grassland.

Africa’s rhino populations have become fragmented and only isolated pockets of animals remain. These fragmented populations are typically small with limited genetic diversity. In protected areas, such as Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, careful attention is paid to the genetic integrity of recovering black and white rhino populations. Ear-notching is one of the tools used by our wildlife management team to monitor and protect rhinos. Guests can get involved by sponsoring this important conservation work, which takes place during South Africa’s cooler winter months.

White rhino silhouette

Above: A white rhino silhouette is clearly identifiable by its ear notch.



Ear notching is ideally carried out on rhinos that are two years old. This is the age at which a calf is ready to leave its mother. Each rhino receives a unique ear notch number, which it carries as a lifelong identifying mark. This makes it easier for our field rangers to record the distribution and feeding patterns of individual rhinos and collect data on breeding. During the notching procedure, the wildlife team also collects DNA samples recorded in a global database. The database assists with tracking down rhino horns that are illegally traded anywhere in the world. Finally, small microchips are implanted under the skin and in the horns for future identification and security purposes.

Above: As the core capture team approaches the rhino for the first time, everyone else remains safely on the vehicle. A tracker on the vehicle stays alert to the young adult’s mother who will not be far away while the team works.



Every targeted rhino needs to be located by tracking on foot. GPS coordinates for each animal are relayed to the pilot and the vet on board a helicopter. Once an animal has been darted from the air and is asleep, the team on the ground wastes no time in getting to work. Once all procedures are completed, the vet administers an antidote to wake the animal. Once awake, the rhino trots safely back into the wild.

Depending on the conditions, more than one rhino may be located and darted on the same day while the helicopter is in the air and the vet is on site. Interestingly, black and white rhinos respond differently to the capture. According to our conservation team, black rhinos go down fighting and wake up fighting, whereas white rhinos are usually more relaxed and show less aggression.

Above: The young adult is safely reunited with its mother after the procedure.



Guests can participate in vital conservation work by sponsoring an ear-notching exercise. Darting of young rhinos only happens between April and September – the coolest months in the southern Kalahari – and is subject to availability. Guests are invited to join the action while observing the team at work on their sponsored rhino. This may include helping to insert microchips, assisting with monitoring the sleeping animal’s body temperature and breathing, or simply enjoying the rare opportunity to get up close and touch the rough skin or feel the softness of its mouth.

Above: The helicopter advances on a black rhino while the vet readies his dart gun to deliver the anaesthetic drug.



Listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red Data Book, the desert black rhino is thriving at Tswalu despite the increase in poaching across Africa. Tswalu’s conservationists continue to work closely with South African National Parks and the IUCN Rhino Management Group to strengthen the depleted gene pool of the subspecies. Without collaboration, the desert black rhino population could become genetically impoverished, seriously compromising conservation efforts to bring it back from the brink of extinction.



Ear notching is an expensive exercise, due to the cost of the capture drugs, flying time, and the specialised team it requires, which includes the wildlife veterinarian. Guest sponsorship contributes directly to the vital work of protecting rhinos in this way. Additionally, donations help fund future relocation and reintroductions to re-establish rhino populations where they can be protected.

To get involved with rhino ear notching, contact [email protected]

[All images by Marcus Westberg]