May 23, 2010

Rare Black Rhinos Moved To The Serengeti

32 critically endangered East African black rhinos are set to be flown from South Africa back to their habitat in Tanzania's Serengeti Park, and so far 5 have made it as of Friday.

The rhinos had been bred from a group that was rescued from the Serengeti in the 1960s and relocated to South Africa to prevent extinction of the species by poachers.

Widespread poaching in the Serengeti in the 60s and 70s saw the population of the black rhinos in Tanzania dwindle from over 1,000 to just 70. Seven were relocated to South Africa in the early 60s.

"This event is a stark warning of what went wrong in the past," Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said at a ceremony for the arrival of the A C-130 Hercules aircraft at the remote Seronera airstrip, deep in the Serengeti.

"The government is fully committed to the protection of wildlife in general and rhinos in particular," he said.

The relocation of the rhinos was part of a plan by African governments to protect the "big five" mammals -- lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo, and the black rhinos -- that make up one of the continent's main tourist attractions.

"We have trained a special force that will take care of the animals. They are now operating. They are out there in the field cleaning the area (of poachers)," said Dr Simon Nduma, director of the Tanzanian Research Institute.

Conservation experts said the extra protection for the rhinos will help the other species in the park.

In the past few years, both Tanzania and Kenya have suffered a sharp rise in poaching of elephants and rhinos. Kenya lost at least six rhinos last year, according to experts. But, officials say that conservation efforts are becoming more sophisticated and cross-border.

"Conservation is without boundaries, animals don't carry passports and we believe we are almost in unison in ... what we want to achieve in Africa," said South African National Parks Chief Operating Officer David Mabunda.

The 32 black rhinos being reintroduced to Tanzania are part of a 50-strong herd bred from the original seven that were rescued in the 60s.