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The Rhino Takes Flight

The Rhino Takes Flight


Relocating black rhinos is a crucial component in conservation efforts to ensure the survival of this critically endangered species. But how exactly do you move an animal that literally weighs a ton?

Well, for starters, you dart it and put it to sleep for a while, enabling you to stay clear of the rather intimidating pointy bits at the front end. And then you tie really tough fabric straps around each ankle, attach them to a helicopter and air-lift the beast to a place where you can load it onto a truck.

I simplify the procedure, of course, but in essence that’s a relatively new technique being used in South Africa to move rhinos that are to be relocated from terrain which is difficult to get to by truck. Recently the folks of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project – an initiative spearheaded by the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) South African branch – used it when relocating 19 black rhinos from the country’s Eastern Cape Province to Limpopo Province some 1,500 kilometres away (and yes, for the eagle-eyed among you who know what to look for, I’m aware that the rhinos in the picture above happen to be white and not black rhinos).

The short chopper ride, which lasts less than 10 minutes, is considered a considerable improvement by conservationists, because it significantly reduces the time required to extract the animals from inaccessible areas. Obviously great care is taken to make sure that the procedure is as painless and stress-free for the rhino as possible.

Check out the amazing photos of the operation – it’s not often that you see a rhino dangling in mid-air, suspended upside-down from its ankles! I’ll post a video of the action, which promises to be equally spectacular, as soon as it’s available.

The Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has been in operation since 2003 with the aim of relocating black rhinos, increasing their numbers and giving them a greater geographical range throughout South Africa. To date, the project has found new homes for nearly 120 black rhinos.

Like the folks at Green Renaissance (they took the pictures) say, projects like this give hope to those of us who are worried about the future of the rhino. And we sure need hope.

On Wednesday, WWF South Africa announced that this year a record number of rhinos have been butchered in the country by poachers who sell the horns on the international black market. Since the beginning of 2011, 341 black and white rhinos have been killed illegally in South Africa, eclipsing last year’s figure of 333, the previous record.

And the slaughter continues. Last month a rhino in Limpopo miraculously survived after being shot 11 times. Two white rhino cows in the Free State Province, one of them pregnant, weren’t so lucky.

All of this comes after WWF declared the Javan rhino extinct in Vietnam in October after the last remaining animal had been killed by criminals. Less than 50 Javan rhinos remain in the world, all of them in a single Indonesian national park.

Clearly the situation is desperate and we should support efforts such as those of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project in whatever way we can.

Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath


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1:16PM PST on Jan 10, 2012

Flying Rhinos, it's like they are super heroes chosen to represent all endangered species.

4:17AM PST on Nov 13, 2011

Thanks for the article.

9:24PM PST on Nov 9, 2011

Nice post. Thank you.

7:49PM PST on Nov 8, 2011

save all endangered species!!

12:31PM PST on Nov 8, 2011

I wish the poor rhinos well. If keeping them well-guarded in zoos turns out to be the only way to keep them safe from poachers, that would be better than extinction.

7:24AM PST on Nov 7, 2011

All animals are amazing and we humans have a responsibility to ensure their survival.

8:35AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

We can grow human skin for transplant in a lab. If someone could develop a viable growth medium for rhino horns and then flood the market with these lab grown versions, prices for rhino horn on the underground market would collapse and the poachers would then have no profit incentive.

The same might apply to elephant tusks or any other animal body part sold for profit.

Science can save endangered species by eliminating the profit motive,,,of course, that would really irritate the poachers,,,

7:54AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

do whatever is necessary to save the rhinos, even if it means open season on the poachers

7:54PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

I hope they will monitor and protect the rhinos at the new location.

6:59PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

good article

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