As rhino numbers continue to plunge with over a 1000 killed for their horns last year in Africa, Australia is stepping in to save the animal. In a first-time conservation effort, around 80 African rhinos will be translocated to Australia over four years, beginning with six this August.
The Australian Rhino Project founded in 2013 by South African-born Australian Ray Dearlove eventually plans to reintroduce the species, after it establishes a breeding herd, to Africa once the poaching is controlled. Australia's strong border-security, lack of comparable poverty and poaching-free history make it a much safer option than Africa, believes Ray. A similar climate and habitat to Africa and a lack of diseases and parasites also help.
"Australia has abundant safety, land, resources (money, people) and is outside of the traditional poaching syndicate links," he said, adding, "also – Australia will be harder and not as viable an option for syndicates to set up and travel to target one population."
The six white rhinos ear-marked for relocation this August include five females and one bull who will first spend months in quarantine under supervision before being relocated to Monarto Zoo's safari park near Adelaide.
The whole exercise costs around $70,000 per rhino. But besides that, the project success will depend on the breeding success and upon reintroduction to Africa, predators, starvation and intra-specific competition, according to Dr Roan Plotz, a black rhino expert. The search is on for large spaces required to keep the herd wild.
"We have a number of opportunities in WA, in the Northern Territory and New South Wales and potentially one in Queensland," Ray said.
Poachers wiping out rhinos
With 1338 rhinos killed in 2015, the number of rhinoceros killed by poachers in Africa rose for the sixth straight year to the highest recorded according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Since 2008, as many as 5,940 rhinos have been killed.
The Northern white rhino is almost extinct with just three of its species left, one male and two females. Efforts are on to try revive the numbers with artificial insemination. The white rhino was particularly vulnerable to poaching as it is relatively not as aggressive, and moves around in herds, according to WWF. In the 1960s, there were more than 2,000 remaining in the wild. After recovering partially in 2000 when there were around 30 numbers of the northern white rhino in the wild, the species was decimated by poachers. Southern white rhinos number around 20,000 thanks to a conservation effort from a mere 50 in early 1990. The black rhino numbers are lower at 5000.
In India too, Kaziranga in Assam that houses around 1200 of the Great one-horned rhino saw 15 killed in 2015 and three this year alone.
From 13 killed in 2007 to 1,215 in 2014, the poaching in Africa saw a 9000% increase. Poachers have been aggressive and using similar technological advances used by conservationists, spurred by high price for rhino horn in the black market. Rhino horn is highly valued in traditional Chinese and south east Asian medicine, believed to cure a range of ailments, and can fetch up to $50,000 each.