South Africa plans to move up to 500 rhinos from its flagship Kruger National Park to counter a wave of poaching for their horns, which are highly prized in newly affluent Asian countries as a sign of wealth.
Officials said yesterday the mission could see some of the animals shipped to the nearby safe havens of Botswana and Zambia as South Africa grapples with the poaching epidemic that has seen more than 630 rhinos killed so far this year, 408 of them in the Kruger. “We have to take rhinos to where they are safe,” Markus Hofmeyr, head vet of the national park, told a news briefing.
The latest census from the Kruger shows it has between 8,400 and 9,600 white rhinos. Despite the poaching, the population has stabilised with an annual mortality rate of around eight per cent matched by a similar birth rate.
The removals will be a huge operation that involves tracking down the animals in rugged and remote bush and then darting them with tranquillisers from helicopters. Moving one animal can cost $1,500 or more. “It is a mammoth task,” Environment minister Edna Molewa said. “We must start soon.”
A record 250 rhinos were moved in 2009 but the scale of the problem has forced a more drastic approach.