After half-century absence, Black Rhinos fly home to Serengeti
Five critically endangered Eastern Black Rhinos were flown on cargo planes to Serengeti National Reserve in their native Tanzania, nearly half a century after their forebears were evacuated to save them from poachers.
Serengeti National Reserve, Tanzania
As is often the case at an African VIP function, the honored guests were a little late.Skip to next paragraph
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On board were five critically endangered Eastern Black Rhinos, being returned to their native Tanzania nearly half a century after their ancestors were evacuated to save them from poachers.
The reason for the delay? One of the six originally slated for Friday’s repatriation was found to have a suspected eye infection, and was left behind in South Africa on vet’s orders.
That did not dampen spirits among the 500-strong crowd who gathered under a fierce sun in the middle of the Serengeti National Reserve to watch what many call "the most ambitious wildlife relocation in 50 years.”
Brass bands and plume headdresses
To the left, beside the Tanzanian National Parks Authority Brass Band, warriors dressed in serval cat and Colobus monkey skins, with ostrich plume headdresses, performed traditional welcoming dances.
Diplomats sweated in suits, journalists jostled for interviews, and chefs struggled to keep the buffet "almost ready" for an extra two hours. But, as Simon Mduma, director of the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute said, “this is a historic day.”
The five Eastern Black Rhinos are the first of 32 of the critically endangered species to be flown from a private game park in South Africa to this vast wildlife ecosystem in northern Tanzania.
Mr. Mduma – and many others – have said it is the largest relocation of large mammals over such a distance.
Takeoff to touch down was a little over 1,700 miles as the crow – or rhino – flies.
Capturing the rhinos
The operation began six weeks ago, when Piet Morkel, a veterinarian and rhino expert who has darted more than 1,000 of the animals worldwide, captured the first of the 32 in their South African conservancy.
Since then, they have been kept in large specially-constructed pens called bomas.
Two handlers have been with them the whole time and have familiarized them with enclosed spaces, steadily introducing them to the crates used during the flight, and slowly changing their fodder to that found in East Africa.
Early on Friday, each of the 1.2-ton animals was ushered into their crates and loaded onto the Hercules. Five hours later, those crates were slowly edged out of the cavernous belly of the cargo hold and onto waiting trucks to be driven to their new home.
The five rhinos will be kept in new bomas for the next three to four weeks, and then released into a 15-square-mile enclosure ringed with electric fences. Once they are fully acclimatized, they will be introduced fully into the wild.