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First batch of eastern black rhinos moved from South Africa to Tanzania to take part in breeding program

May 21, 2010 |  1:57 pm

Black rhino

NAIROBI, Kenya — Five rhinos were flown from South Africa to Tanzania on Friday to boost a population that has been decimated by years of poaching, a wildlife official said.

The three females and two males are the first batch of 32 rhinos being taken to Tanzania in a two-year program to increase Tanzania's black rhino population, said Brian Harris, the managing director of the Singita Grumeti reserve in Tanzania, which will receive the five rhinos. The country's rhino population is currently between 60 and 70.

Harris said Friday the five animals are descendants of the eastern black rhino subspecies. They were flown to South Africa over 40 years ago by scientists who were afraid rampant poaching in Tanzania would render the species extinct.

The black rhino population has tumbled from a high of 65,000 across Africa in the 1970s to a low of 2,410 in 1995, largely due to poaching. Recently their numbers have climbed to 4,230 thanks to intensive conservation efforts.

The black rhino is actually gray and has two horns, the longer of which sits at the front of the nose. It is only found in eastern and southern Africa. It is one of the "big five" animals most tourists want to see on safari. The others include buffalo, elephants, leopards and lions.

Moving rhinos is a complicated process. An adult can weigh more than a ton. Friday's relocation was organized by Singita Grumeti Reserves, Frankfurt Zoological Society and Tanzanian authorities. Harris said the total cost of the two-year program is estimated to be $7 million.

Poaching remains the biggest threat to the survival of the black rhino in Africa, said Alistair Nelson, a program manager with the Frankfurt Zoological Society. Last year 150 rhinos were killed for their horns in Africa, Nelson said. Harris said the conservationists have trained a special unit of 23 rangers to protect the rhinos that have been moved.

RELATED RHINOCEROS NEWS:
Surge in rhino poaching devastates African populations (Column One story by Robyn Dixon)
Security forces accused of poaching elephants, rhinos in Zimbabwe

-- Tom Odula, Associated Press

Photo: The pen carrying one of the five eastern black rhinos is unloaded from a South African cargo plane at at Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania on May 21. Credit: Khalfan Said / Associated Press

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