Rare black rhinos returned to Tanzania
The animals were extinct in their natural habitat, but were airlifted home Friday.
Fri, May 21 2010 at 3:36 PM
ENDANGERED: Only 700 eastern black rhino remain in the world. (Photo: Getty Images)
A group of Tanzanian rhinos, extinct in their natural habitat, was airlifted home Friday from South Africa where some of the species were taken two decades ago.
The Tanzanian government asked South Africa to return some of the black rhinos, of the east African Diceros bicornis michaeli species, after they went extinct in their original home range, South Africa's government news agency said.
South Africa had imported five of the michaeli rhinos more than 20 years ago, BuaNews agency said. While the species is not native to South Africa, the rhinos thrived there, multiplying to 61.
"I thank very profoundly all those who have supported Tanzania's wildlife conservation efforts over the many years," Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said when the five rhinos arrived at an airstrip in Serengeti National Park.
"This event is a stark reminder of what went wrong in the past and a lesson about what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.
"My government is fully committed to the conservation of wildlife in general and rhinos in particular."
The animals were loaded onto trucks and released into a small enclosure where they will be closely monitored over the next few weeks, an AFP correspondent reported.
They will then be released into a 16-square mile sanctuary protected by an electric fence and monitored for up to a year and then released to roam the Serengeti plains.
A further 27 will arrive over the next two years, bringing the total to 32 in what is billed as the biggest move of this kind.
Only 700 eastern black rhino remain in the world, with less than 70 in Tanzania.
The rhinos were transported in a Lockheed Hercules C-130 cargo plane.
"This initiative is in line with the African Renaissance, as these animals contribute to economic development through tourism and protection of our national capital," South Africa's Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said.
David Mabunda, the head of South Africa's national parks, called the relocation of the animals a "fairy tale" ending.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, poaching almost wiped out the rhinos from east Africa. By 1991 there were only two rhinos left in the Serengeti. That number has now risen to 33.
"We have done all the necessary preparations to make sure these animals will be safe. They will survive," Simon Mbuma, director of the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute, told AFP.
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition