After decades of poaching in the latter part of the 20th century, the fate of Eastern Black Rhinos in the Serengeti seemed bleak; By the 1990s, nearly all the region's rhinos had been wiped out as only two females remained in the wild. But in hopes of preserving the rhino, hunted illegally for their coveted horns, conservationists offered a lifeline to the threatened species by relocating seven of them to a wildlife reserve in South Africa in 1964. And now, after 46 years away from their native habitat, decedents of those rescued rhinos have begun making a historic journey back to the Serengeti recently, in one of the "most ambitious" relocation efforts ever undertaken.According to a report from The Telegraph, five rhinos were transported from a conservancy in South Africa to their native home in Tanzania's Serengeti National Reserve via a Hercules C-130 aircraft. Over the next two years, 27 more rhinos will be relocated to the reserve.
There was a celebration awaiting the first arriving rhinos as Tanzanian officials recognized the great significance of the long-awaited homecoming. Director of the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute, Simon Mduma, tells The Telegraph:
This is a historic day - we are welcoming home these animals in the first ever relocation of its kind in the world.
Rounding up the animals and preparing them for the 1,700 mile trip from South Africa to their native home in Tanzania began weeks earlier, with veterinarians tranquilizing the first batch of rhinos in the conservancy. Only after allowing some time for the animals to become acquainted with being in tight places were the one-ton animals loaded onto the aircraft. But now that they've arrived home, their journey back into the wild has just begun. Over the course of a year, the rhinos will be closely observed in a sectioned-off portion of the reserve to observe how they adjust to their new home before being released completely.
Currently there are only 33 Eastern Black Rhinos in the Serengeti reserve, which means when the relocation effort is completed in two years, the population there will have doubled--but that doesn't mean the species is out of the woods just yet. The species continues to be a prime target of poachers, a fact sadly reinforced by the slaughter of six black rhinos in Kenya last year.
To combat the problem of illegal hunting, two dozen rangers have been charged with patrolling the reserve.
A spokesperson for the group arranging the relocation explains the purpose of their efforts:
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 restore the environment.
The massive rhino relocation, which is set to cost around $7 million, offers hope for a species which has been ravaged by poaching--but the hope is tenuous as the practice continues throughout much of Africa. For now at least, as the first of 32 Eastern Black Rhinos are released to their homeland after their ancestors were hunted to near extinction, things are finally looking up.
More on Black Rhinos
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Rhino Horn Now Worth More Than Gold - And You Wonder Why Poaching Continues...