EXTRACT FROM THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Written by Isobel Markham for The Telegraph
South African authorities have announced a plan to evacuate up to 500 rhino from Kruger National Park to safer areas where they are less likely to fall prey to poachers hunting them for their horns.
Illegal rhino killings in Kruger have soared in recent years, up from 13 in 2007 to 1 004 in 2013 despite the deployment of soldiers throughout the vast nature reserve to protect them. Officials said more than 630 rhinos had been killed in South Africa so far this year – 408 of them in Kruger.
“A decision has been made on this issue of translocation,” said Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister on Tuesday. “Relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds could allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow.”
Poaching has hit the Kruger rhino population hard. The latest census showed that the park has between 8 400 and 9 600 white rhino, and around 2 000 black rhino left.
The operation will focus on areas of high poaching activity within Kruger, which is roughly the size of Wales, such as the park’s eastern border with Mozambique, where those from impoverished communities are easily lured into poaching by the prospect of quick money.
Mrs Molewa said that the relocation will be a “mammoth task”. The operation will involve tracking the animals in rugged and remote bush, darting them with tranquillisers from helicopters and then moving them. Moving each animal could cost up to US$2 000 (£1,200).
“We are looking at capturing about six to eight animals a day in the cooler months,” Markus Hofmeyr, the national park’s head of veterinary services, said at a news briefing. “The cost implications vary.” As yet there is no time frame for moving the animals, but as South Africa is about to move into its summer season, Mr Hofmeyr’s comments suggest the move may only get under way next April when autumn begins.
Rhino have become increasingly vulnerable to poaching as the animals’ horns – made from the same material as finger nails – have become more and more coveted, especially in China. There has also been a shift from use in traditional medicine to showing off rhino horn as a sign of wealth, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which monitors trade in wildlife products. Some conservationists estimate that rhino horn has a street value of US$65 000 (£38 000) per kilogram, which makes it more valuable than platinum or gold.
South Africa has relocated 1 450 animals from Kruger over the past 15 years. In 2009 a record 250 rhinos were evacuated from the park, but Mr Hofmeyr said the scale of the poaching problem calls for more drastic action. “We have to take rhinos to where they are safe,” he said.
The rhino will be relocated to other state-owned provincial parks, private parks and communal areas. The environment ministry said nearby countries, such as Botswana and Zambia, may also be considered as hosts. Botswana could be an ideal home for the rhinos, as it has vast areas of sparsely-populated wilderness that are tough to access.
A year ago, the South African government gave the go-ahead to studies into the possibility of legal trade in rhino horn. Figures released by the department of environmental affairs in 2013 indicated that South Africa has more than 18 tons of rhino horn stockpiles. Around 40 rhino horns were stolen when a safe owned by a regional parks agency was broken into in April, prompting new questions about the illegal trade.