Sixteen southern white rhinos have arrived at Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 17 years after the park’s last white rhino was killed by poachers.
The crash of rhinos came from private game reserves in South Africa, and arrived by plane at Doko International Airport, before being flown to a small airstrip and finally moved to the reserve in trucks.
The reintroduction of the white rhinos is part of a larger project which organisers African Parks hopes will result in the animals breeding.
White Rhino Poaching
South Africa has the world’s largest white rhino population at an estimated 12,968 animals, but the number is down by over 2,000 from 10 years ago as a result of continued poaching.
For the DRC and Garamba, the relocations are a big step forward to restoring white rhino to the core of their former habitat – albeit a different sub-species.
African Parks’s CEO, Peter Fearnhead, said: ‘Efforts to save the northern white rhino was sadly a case of “too little too late” and should never be allowed to happen again.
‘Now that Garamba is a safe location and has proper protection in place, this reintroduction is the start of a process whereby southern white rhino as the closest genetic alternative can fulfil the role of the northern white rhino in the landscape.’
The head of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, Yves Milan Ngangay, described the release of the rhinos and plans for future relocations as: ‘a testament to our country’s commitment to biodiversity conservation’.
He added: ‘As Garamba is poised to become a globally important sanctuary for megaherbivores, introducing southern white rhino to the country is an important step in advancing our contribution to rhino conservation in Africa.’
Northern white rhinos were once abundant across savanna and open woodland habitat from southern Sudan, northern Uganda into northern DRC, the Central African Republic and Chad.
In the 19th century they were also found further south in the Karagwe region of northern Tanzania and in neighbouring areas of Rwanda.
Hunted Into Extinction
But hunting for meat, horn and sport in the late 19th and first six decades of the 20th century reduced numbers from tens of thousands to just a few thousand.
As late as 1960, there were still around 2,360 northern white rhinos spread thinly across a shrinking range. But widespread poaching to feed demand in Yemen, where horn was used for dagger handles, and in China and the Far East, where it was used widely in traditional medicine, steadily reduced numbers.
Civil wars in both the Democratic of Congo and neighbouring Sudan also obstructed anti-poaching measures, with heavily-armed Sudanese groups, militia from DRC and members of the Ugandan LRA population entering the park and poaching.
An aerial survey in 2004 revealed that numbers had dropped to about 17-22 and by 2006 this was down to four and a 2008 survey found no white rhinos at all in Garamba, leading to the conclusion by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that the northern white rhino was extinct in the wild.
South Africa’s rhino population has also been hit hard by poaching and there are continuing problems with protecting both southern white rhino and black rhino. Nearly 10,000 black and white rhinos have been poached in South Africa since 2007.
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