Good Rhino News
It might look a bit ungainly, but one of the safest and least stressful ways to relocate rhinos – moving them to less threatened habitats or areas protected from poachers – can involve briefly suspending them below a helicopter. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way.
As part of WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, seven new rhino habitats have been established across South Africa, to encourage increased breeding and population growth. Close to 120 black rhino have been ‘trans-located’ to these new habitats so far.
In one well-publicized operation, a group of 19 critically endangered black rhinos were moved from South Africa’s Eastern Cape to a new range in the Limpopo province.
In some cases the process involves using a relatively new technique to airlift some of the rhinos out of difficult or inaccessible areas by helicopter. It entails suspending the tranquilized rhino by the ankles for a short trip through the air to waiting vehicles.
WWF’s Dr. Jacques Flammand – who led the team of wildlife vets, conservation managers and capture teams from various organizations on this project – explains the benefits of this unlikely-looking method of rhino transportation:
“Previously rhinos were either transported by lorry over very difficult tracks, or airlifted in a net. This new procedure is gentler on the darted rhino because it shortens the time it has to be kept asleep with drugs, the respiration is not as compromised as it can be in a net, and it avoids the need for travel in a crate over terrible tracks.
“Another advantage is that rhinos can be more easily removed from dangerous situations – for example if they have fallen asleep in a donga (ditch) or other difficult terrain after being darted.” And sometimes their habitat is simply inaccessible for any form of ground transport.
“The helicopter trans-locations usually take less than ten minutes,” Flammand points out, “and the animals suffer no ill effect. All of the veterinarians working on the trans-location agreed that this was now the method of choice for the well-being of the animals.”
In a a recent dispatch, the World Wildlife Fund wrote: We’re faced with the alarming fact that rhino numbers are more than 90 percent lower than they were three generations ago – so we need to take urgent and sometimes drastic action to secure surviving populations and their range.
Trans-location is one of the most successful techniques we’ve come up with in rhino conservation – and it’s a technique we’ve perfected over almost 40 years.
We can reassure everyone that the welfare of the rhinos is always key for us. There are also strict international guidelines on how to trans-locate rhino. We’ve worked out the maximum distance and time we can hang rhinos upside-down like this. A specialist vet is required at all times, and the animals are monitored throughout the process.
If we have any concerns at any stage about the rhino’s health, or we decide the distance is too far, we simply don’t do it. There have been a number of cases where we’ve abandoned the process – where rhinos have been woken up and left where they were because we weren’t happy to move them.
But we know trans-location works. We’ve shown that by moving rhinos around to increase range and establish new populations, the rhino respond well and breed quickly. We used this approach to expand the southern white rhino and greater one-horned rhino in India – those rhino species are now regarded as some of conservation’s greatest success stories.
Source: World Wildlife Fund