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The Australian government has confirmed holding “preliminary discussions” on plans to move up to 80 rhinos from South Africa to create a new breeding herd on the western plains of Australia.

© Karen Sandison
© Karen Sandison

If the plan gets final approval from both countries, the rhinos would be shifted in batches of about 20 animals a year to bolster an existing small breeding herd of white and black rhinos at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, about 400km north-west of Sydney.

Ray Dearlove, a former South African who is raising funds for the project in Australia, said all rhinos imported from this country would remain the property of the South African government and could serve as an insurance policy against extinction.

“Our projections are that by 2020 there would be a viable insurance herd of approximately 150 white rhinos in Australia – and that providing the (poaching) situation is sufficiently stable and that the authorities in SA agree, we could start repatriating up to 10 rhinos a year to SA from Australia,” he wrote in the latest newsletter of The Australian Rhino Project.


Dearlove said while the Australian government had very strong protocols to protect its environment and meat industry, it had given “in principle” support to the rhino project.

Responding to queries from The Mercury, a spokesman for the Australian Department of the Environment in Canberra confirmed that: “At this stage, preliminary discussions about the Australian Rhino Project have taken place. The government has not received a formal application to import rhinos. Any applications received will go through the normal assessment and decision-making process under national environmental law, including consideration of any biosecurity requirements.”

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs confirmed earlier this year that while there had been no “formal engagement” with the Australian Rhino Project, it had also received informal inquiries about the legal requirements governing the export of live rhino.

Department spokesman Albi Modise said a project of this magnitude should include a detailed security threat analysis and habitat suitability assessment, and might also require a memorandum of understanding to be signed between the two nations.

So far, there are no indications whether rhinos would be sourced from SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife or private rhino owners.

However, Environment Minister Edna Molewa announced six weeks ago that there were plans to move up to 500 rhinos out the Kruger National Park to other more secure reserves in South Africa and possibly to Botswana and Zambia.

More than 787 rhino have been shot dead by poachers this year – a killing rate of almost three rhinos a day.

Dearlove said the next key step was for the South Africa government to provide, in principle, approval to transfer up to 20 rhinos a year to Australia for the next four years. “I am often asked why Australia is a safer place for rhinos than Africa. The first reason is that the planned location of these animals is almost six hours drive from Sydney and therefore not easily accessible. Poaching is very, very rare in Australia and there is little, if any, pressure on the planned location from very poor communities who live close to the breadline. There is also very little corruption in Australia – and I have no doubt in my mind that Australians would not tolerate poaching of any wildlife, irrespective of what species it is.”

Earlier this year, a small founder population of black rhino was captured in South Africa and moved to a safe haven in Botswana, guarded by the Botswana National Defence Force.

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Africa Geographic Travel
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