Almost 50 years after they were hunted to local extinction, black rhinos will again roam the wilds of the Central African nation of Chad, the latest chapter in a movement to bring big mammals back to former ranges on the continent.
On Thursday, six rhinos will be flown to Chad’s Zakouma National Park from the South African city of Port Elizabeth, sedated and confined in specially crafted crates to ensure they don’t cause a commotion mid-air.
The initiative comes against the backdrop of a poaching crisis that saw over 1,000 rhinos slain in South Africa last year to meet a red-hot demand for their horns in Asia, where they are prized for their alleged medicinal properties.
A spokesperson for the South African National Parks, an NGO which runs Chad’s Zakouma and other reserves, said they’re confident in Chad’s ability to protect the animals because of the country’s conservation work in other areas.
“Chad has been able to curtail their poaching of elephants, which takes place from Sudanese horsemen that come down on an annual basis to kill the elephants but they’ve been able to stop that almost to nil. Now that is a major defeat,” the park’s head of planning and development, Mike Knight, said.
“And for these rhinos, which are not going to move over into large landscape, I think the African Park Institution has shown what they can do and they’ve shown an element of trust in how they can take this project further.”
With 18,000 white rhinos and 2,000 of the smaller black rhino, South Africa is home to about 80 per cent of the global population of the pachyderms, making it the springboard for re-introduction efforts elsewhere.
No rhino has been seen in Chad since the early 1970s.
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African Parks has also reintroduced rhinos and lions from South Africa to Rwanda and is planning to relocate lions to Malawi.
The Chad-bound rhinos were in the fortified enclosures or “bomas” for three months in preparation for their long haul.
The animals have been fed lucerne, a kind of super-nutritious hay, the past few weeks. It will be initially provided to them in Chad as they adjust their diet to new trees and shrubs.
Security has been tight: the animals’ location was kept under wraps, they will be given a police escort to the airport, and in Chad they will be dehorned and fitted with transponders.
“For the security measures, we now have a big team of rangers for the security of the area,” Chad’s ambassador to South Africa Mahamoud Adam Bachir said. These rangers have been trained very well and we have the aerial surveillance by the drone and other measures we have prepared to secure animals from any dangers — no poaching, no anything.”
The hope is that the two bulls and four cows will establish a breeding herd which will be the most northern wild population of the species in Africa.
— With a file from Global News