Faced with a devastating exponential rise in illegal rhino poaching in South Africa, Rhinos Without Borders was formed in order to start moving these endangered animals away from the poaching hotspots to a safer environment.
The number of rhino being brutally slaughtered continues to escalate at an alarming rate with 1 215 killed in 2014 alone.
&Beyond therefore joined forces with like-minded conservation company, Great Plains Conservation, and together we have committed to moving 100 rhino to safety. A formidable partnership formed, the next step was to generate extensive funds for our ambitious Rhinos Without Borders 100 rhinos project.
The rhino would be transported by air as opposed to road, in order to shorten the journey and lessen the amount of stress placed on the animals. The cost to transport just one rhino by air is USD 45 000, so the whole project, which includes ongoing and much-needed monitoring and research, requires USD 8 million.
While we continue to raise funds for the entire project, we are thrilled to announce that the first batch of the 100 rhino has now safely been moved to an undisclosed location in Botswana. Botswana was carefully selected for its extremely low poaching rates, thanks in part to its military-style anti-poaching unit, which has a zero tolerance policy when encountering potential threats.
Anyone that has worked in conservation will know that it’s often a case of hurry up and wait. Not only do the extensive planning, paperwork and logistics all need to be meticulously in place, but Mother Nature, and of course the animals too, play a vital role in how the exercise ultimately pans out. Thankfully Mother Nature cooperated giving us two cool, overcast days for our rhino capture. This weather makes the operation far less stressful as the animals aren’t at risk of overheating in the hot sun. Expert veterinarian Dr Dave Cooper and &Beyond Habitat Researcher Cilla Pickering took to the air in a helicopter to locate the pre-selected rhino using a telemetry device.
While they swiftly tracked the rhino, &Beyond Reserve Manager Simon Naylor, Group Conservation Manager Les Carlisle, the &Beyond Conservation Team and the game capture team lead by Grant Tracy were all on standby below, the vehicles, crates and crane all poised and ready for action.
Once each animal is located, it is darted from the air. The dart contains a small dose of M99 (Etorphine), which is surprisingly capable of tranquilising such a massive, thick-skinned animal in just eight to ten minutes. This strictly controlled veterinary drug is said to be 1 000 times stronger than morphine and just one drop can kill a human being instantly.
Those who have witnessed a game capture will agree that it is an emotional experience. It is difficult knowing that you have to put such a peaceful animal into short-term distress in order to save it from the ever-looming threat of poaching. Everyone watched with concern and trepidation as the rhino crew jumped off their vehicles and ran to each tranquilised rhino’s side. Quickly and professionally, they surrounded the animal, a bright red blindfold placed over its eyes and large earplugs pushed into each ear to minimise stress.
A partial antidote was then administered to wake the rhino up just enough to stand and stumble around. The team then positioned themselves strategically around the rhino, holding it steady, and with a rope and many strong hands, they guided the confused animal straight up the ramp and safely into the crate.
It was incredibly seamless and coordinated with impressive military precision, thanks to our highly qualified, skilled and well prepared team that worked together quickly and left nothing up to chance. The two consecutive capture days were a resounding success with the full batch safely captured and ready for careful transport to their new home across the border.
Largest airlift of rhino ever undertaken
The rhino, having completed their quarantine, were all set to be transported from South Africa to neighbouring Botswana in Ilyushin Il-76 Russian jets. Upon clearing customs, it was time for the crane to load the crates individually into each aircraft. Everything went smoothly and without mishap and the rhino were flown across the border.
They were then transported by road to their final release sites and released at last light. The cow and calf combinations were placed in a holding boma, the gate left wide open, allowing them to reunite and rebond before electing to leave the boma when it suited them. They all chose to spend the night in the enclosure and ventured out into their lush new habitat the next morning. Freedom at last.
The transport time from start to finish was 24 hours, as opposed to 48 hours if they had been transported by road, meaning these animals endured far less stress … even though our transport teams may not have!
And so, the first batch of the 100 rhino we plan to move to safety are now roaming free, protected by the latest technology and a specialised anti-poaching unit. These rhino now form part of a seed population that will have the chance to expand both in number and gene diversity.
Rhinos Without Borders has succeeded in moving these endangered rhino from a high-risk poaching zone and significantly decreased the likelihood of them being killed. It is indeed a story of hope.
We extend our most gracious and heartfelt thanks to each and every person that has contributed to this project, whether financially, operationally or by raising much-needed awareness. Every bit really does help and together, we can save this species from extinction.
Like everyone, we wish a project like this wasn’t necessary and that rhino were able to roam free in South Africa; however the sad reality is that one rhino is killed every seven hours and something needed to be done.
Thank you to everyone that has helped turn this Rhinos Without Borders dream, sad as it may seem, into a reality.
How you can help
If you would like to make a contribution to Rhinos Without Borders that will see the next batch of rhino moved to safety, please visit www.rhinoswithoutborders.com to make a donation.