For the first time in 50 years, wild black rhinos will roam the bush and grasslands of Chad in Central Africa, after poaching had driven them to local extinction decades ago.
Thanks to a collaboration between governments and conservationists, six black rhinos – two males and four females – have been rehomed from South Africa to Chad with the hopes of kickstarting a new population.
Chad was once home to two species of rhino, the northern white rhino (a subspecies of white rhino) – the last male of which died in March this year – and the western black rhino (a subspecies of the black rhino), which was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2011.
South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhinos, with 18,000 white rhinos and around 2,000 of the smaller, rarer black rhinos, making it the natural starting point for any repopulation plan.
In 2017, the governments of South Africa and Chad agreed to translocate six black rhinos to Zakouma National Park in southern Chad to hopefully establish a breeding herd. Last year, the Chad government signed an agreement with the non-profit African Parks for the management and protection of expanded territory to include critical conservation areas with Zakouma, which it assumed management of in 2010, at its heart.
And on Thursday, May 3, it finally happened, with the six rhinos flown 4,830 kilometers (3,000 miles) from Port Elizabeth, SA to Zakouma National Park in southern Chad.
“All too often, headlines on rhinos are about their demise as they teeter on the brink of extinction,” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks, in a statement this week. “However, today we are participating in [a] historic event and peering into a brighter future for this species which has persisted on this planet for millions of years.”
The animals were sedated for the 15-hour journey and flown in specially crafted crates to minimize stress, along with vets who monitored them the whole way.
In fact, every precaution was taken, from the heavily fortified enclosures at a secret location they were kept in for three months prior to the transfer, to the police escort to the airport. The plan is to de-horn them upon safe arrival in Chad to remove temptation for poachers and fit them with transponders to track them.
In South Africa alone, 1,028 rhinos were killed by poachers for their horns last year. Black rhino numbers dropped 98 percent between 1960 and 1995 to around 2,500, though dedicated conservation efforts managed to get the numbers back up to the current estimation of 5,400. African Parks has been involved in the successful translocation of black rhinos in Rwanda in 2017 and Malawi in 2003, so here's hoping that this latest plan is successful too.