Nearly 50 years after rhinoceroses were hunted to extinction in Chad, conservationists and African authorities are taking the first steps to reintroduce the species to the Central African nation, airlifting six rhinos from South Africa to Chad’s Zakouma National Park, Reuters reported.
South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the global rhino population, with 18,000 white rhinos and 2,000 black rhinos. But the country has seen a spike in poaching in recent years, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed in 2017. Poachers take the rhinos’ horns and ultimately sell them in Asia for their purported medicinal value.
“By establishing a viable and secure population of rhino in Chad, we are contributing to the expansion of the rhino population in Africa, and the survival of a species that has faced high levels of poaching,” said South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa.
In preparation for their translocation, happening today after two years of planning, the six rhinos — two males and four females — have been fed a highly nutritious hay the past few weeks that will help them transition to their diet of new plant species, Reuters reported. If the initiative is successful, the rhinos will be the northernmost wild population of rhinos in Africa.
A rhino ranger unit has been established in Chad to watch over the new population, according to African Parks, the conservation group organizing the relocation. In addition to on-the-ground rangers, the security unit will use aerial surveillance to protect against poaching.