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.
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“That’s going to take about a year,” said Brian Harris, managing director of the Singita Grumeti Fund, a private conservation foundation bankrolled by Wall Street financier Paul Tudor-Jones, which paid the relocation’s $6.8 million cost. “We need to keep a close eye on them as they live through a wet season, to build up resistance to the tsetse fly [which carries sleeping sickness], and a dry season, so they learn how to find water.”
But the threat that forced their ancestors from this land has not gone away, even if it has diminished.
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Six black rhinos were killed for their horns in neighboring Kenya in the past 12 months, and efforts have been put in place to avoid the same thing happening to Tanzania’s new arrivals.
“This event is a stark reminder of what went wrong in the past, and what needs to be done to prevent that happening again in the future,” said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.
The reason that the Eastern Black Rhino ended up in South Africa, far from their natural habitat, was because conservationists shifted seven for their own safety in 1964, as decades of wildlife slaughter began across east and central Africa.
By 1991, only two black rhinos remained in the Serengeti, down from more than 700 in the mid-1970s.
Numbers have edged back up to 33 – to be doubled with the current repatriation – but the snare-setting, tusk-hacking, and horn hunting still goes on today.
An elite force of 24 rangers have been specially trained to monitor the new Serengeti rhinos, which will have GPS chips inserted in their horns so conservationists can track them.
“If someone in the local community is going to be offered thousands of dollars to go out there and get a rhino horn, of course it’s going to be difficult to stop that,” said Dennis Rentsch, technical adviser for Frankfurt Zoological Society, which oversaw the repatriation. “But also if we can find ways for people to earn a living without having to come into the park to poach game meat, then there’s less chance they will ever come across a rhino.”
The ultimate aim, said the Singita Grumeti Fund’s Mr. Harris, is to rebuild the biodiversity of the Serengeti ecosystem. “Reintroducing the rhinos and ensuring their safety from poachers will automatically protect other species sharing the same habitat. So more animals will feel comfortable here and more will come in, allowing natural processes to function and restore the environment.”
- Serengeti homecoming: yes, Black Rhinos can fly
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