Reasons to move
Charly Seale, outdoorsman, sees the Texas grasslands as a potential sanctuary for South Africa’s rhinos. The vast area will aim to protect the endangered rhinos from poachers. In 2014, poachers hit a new record with 1,215 rhinos killed. International crime syndicates are after rhino horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine and sell at prices higher than gold. People believe that rhino horns can cure cancer, although there is no scientific evidence to back this up.
Seale is part of an ambitious project organised by animal welfare groups in the United States and African countries to bring hundreds of orphaned baby southern white rhino to the south Texas grasslands. The climate and geography, of the area, is similar to that of South Africa’s, which will make it easier for the rhino to adjust.
Texans can afford the transportation bill, mostly paid for by private donations. “This is not for the faint of heart or for the faint of chequebook,” said Seale, head of the Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association’s Second Ark Foundation.
In January, South Africa said that 100 rhino had already been moved to neighbouring areas in an effort to reduce poaching. In 2015, another 200 rhino will be moved to what Environment Minister, Edna Molewa, said are ‘strongholds’ where the animals will be safer from poaching. Some have ended up in Botswana. Botawana allows the shooting of poachers on sight.
Moving South Africa’s rhino to Texas would be the largest effort, to date, to move these animals out of harm’s way. The South African Environment Ministry says it has yet to receive a formal request for export, but added that strict criteria, under international endangered species agreements, would have to be met, including zoo accreditation, standards of care and record keeping. South Africa is home to about 20 000 rhino, but under the Texas plan (called Project 1000) far fewer rhino would likely be approved for export to the US state.
“There is a lot of red tape on both sides and there would be a need to quarantine the animals,” Seale said. “Most of the rhino that would be transferred are orphan, baby rhino.”
There are many challenges that come with moving baby rhino overseas. Most of the rhino would be under three years old and younger animals would have to be fed milk by bottle. They are typically darted in South Africa, and would then be transported by truck and shipped as air cargo. Rhino are not the best of travellers. Their health could be put in jeopardy by a long trip and aircraft can only move a handful at a time. But if it goes according to plan, the rhino would be housed on ranches in south or southwest Texas that can run in size to 40 000ha.
The rhino would be protected. There are plans to keep their DNA sequences stored in a database and microchips placed in their horns while they are kept under surveillance at the ranches, many equipped with helicopters to keep an eye on the animals.
If things go well in Texas, South Africa can finally put a lid on poaching for good.