5 Black Rhinos to Embark on Historic Transport From Europe to Africa
Finally, some good news for the critically endangered rhinos.
Of the few remaining critically endangered black rhinoceroses in the world, about 60 live in institutions and 5,000 live wild in Africa. It’s not a great situation: In the 1970s, about 65,000 of the majestic beasts ran free. Poaching in Africa has made the rhinos’ home continent a particularly dangerous place for them in recent years, but as local governments get the problem under control in some regions, a group of Czech researchers are unveiling a historic plan to bring the black rhinos to Rwanda after a long stint in Europe.
Researchers and zookeepers at the Czech Republic-based Dvur Králové Zoo announced on Tuesday their plan to send five black rhinoceroses from their zoo and additional zoos in Denmark and the UK back to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park in 2019. The video above shows a black rhino calf named Jasiri, playing with a black cat at Dvur Králové. The zookeepers describe her as a “heroine of the great story,” having overcome her unusually small birth size — too small to suckle her mom’s milk — to grow into a healthy young calf.
There’s a long, never-travelled road ahead for Jasiri, so you can’t blame her for trying to squeeze in a quiet moment with a local cat beforehand. She and the other four rhinos are scheduled for their journey on May or June 2019, making them part of the largest transport of rhinos in history. In the meantime, they’ll be undergoing training at Dvur Králové in order to sit through the plane ride to Kigali, Rwanda.
Akagera National Park has recently become a hotspot for rhino conservation, marking a dramatic change in the park’s rhino population. While in the 1970s the savannah park had about 50 roaming black rhinos, poaching for horns whittled the population to zero in 2007. But in 2017, 20 black rhinos were reintroduced from South Africa to the park — an “extraordinary homecoming,” as the African Parks organization put it — and Jasiri and her entourage are meant to augment this growing population.
African Parks has been boosting security at the park since 2010, adding a helicopter for air surveillance, a team of rhino trackers, and a canine unit, according to the Guardian. Akagera stands to benefit from protecting its wildlife, too: As one spokesperson told The New Times in February, “Tourism and revenues from tourism continue to increase year on year.” The park boasts growing populations of the “Big Five”: rhino, lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo.
Meanwhile, researchers are searching for ways to use science to put an end to poaching and boost the growing but delicate populations. Scientists have used the black rhino genome to catch poachers using DNA profiling, much as forensics experts catch human criminals. Meanwhile, reproductive health researchers are using surrogate techniques to bring back the white rhino, which lost its last male in May. Using frozen sperm from the now-dead male to impregnate a female of a closely related species, they hope to reintroduce a calf in the next few years.
But for Jasiri and her four companions, the hope is that they’ll help grow the the rhino population in Akagera the way their ancestors did for millennia — long before humans conceived of poaching, or were bold enough to bother rhinos at all.