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Flying black rhinos to new homes

Andrea Stockton, staff writer
November 17, 2011 — The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working to increase the black rhino population, which faces a serious threat.

Air capture technique to transport rhinos
Air capture technique to transport rhinos

Black rhino are a critically endangered species and the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project aims to boost the growth rate of the overall population.

“The project stems from the fact that the growth rate of the population has declined in the early part of this century. So a solution had to be found to get them to breed faster,” explains Dr. Jacques Flamand, leader of the project. “There used to be hundreds of thousands of black rhino, but they were heavily poached.”

At the worst time in the early 1980's, there were only about 2,000 black rhino that existed and now the number has crept up to over 4,500 because of intensive conservation and re-location.

“Because the black rhino are shy, they require large tracts of land as they don't like other rhinos close to them,” says Flamand.

In eight year's time, The WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has created seven significant black rhino populations. To date, close to 120 black rhino have been moved from the Eastern Cape to a new location in Africa.

“We're not moving them from the Eastern Cape because they're unsafe there, but because we want to boost the growth rate and we're putting them in a new population that will grow maximally,” says Flamand. “We can't keep all our eggs in one basket and it is essential to manage black rhino populations with the hope that the animals will breed quickly.”

A new air-capture technique was implemented to help move the rhinos from inaccessible areas. The rhino is put to sleep and is suspended by the ankles while transported by helicopter.

'We're powerless against the poaching, but we're trying to get them to breed faster,' Dr. Jacques Flamand
'We're powerless against the poaching, but we're trying to get them to breed faster,' Dr. Jacques Flamand

“This technique, which looks quite spectacular, is no harm to the rhino. It's actually a much kinder way to take them out of the field so they don't have to go on a bumpy or difficult track and we can that way get them to a central point very safely without any damage and in the shortest possible time, which is what we like because we don't like keeping them under for a long period of time,” explains Flamand.

He adds that security of the rhinos is a major concern and several things are taken into account before they are released on to new sites.

“There are various criteria to decide before we release any rhino in an area and security is paramount among those criteria because we want to be absolutely sure that the place where we're putting them is as safe as possible.”

A good patrolling system, good fences and good monitoring systems are among some of the crucial security elements.

The WWF provides this background information about black rhinos:

  • There are about 1915 black rhino in South Africa and approximately 4880 altogether across Africa.
  • Black rhino need larger blocks of land than white rhino because they are not social and space themselves out more.
  • Depending on the type of habitat, a population of 50 black rhino might need anything between 200 to a thousand square kilometres of land.
  • Nearly 120 black rhino have been translocated through the project.
  • Black rhino range has been increased by about 150 000 hectares.
  • Black rhino are a flagship species that is encouraging land owners to consolidate smaller pieces of habitat into more ecologically viable blocks.
  • Many other critically endangered species, such as wild dog, vultures and cheetah, also benefit.

Learn more about this project by visiting WWF South Africa: Black Rhino Range Expansion Project

With files from the WWF South Africa

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