Road Trip! Six White Rhinos Evacuated to Avoid Certain Death

Six white rhinos were successfully moved to another country, where they remain under military protection.
Rhino populations have dipped perilously low in recent years due to poaching. (Photo: Tier Und Naturfotografie J und C Sohns/Getty Images)
May 25, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Joanna writes about environment and energy for the NYT, Popular Science, OnEarth Magazine, and more.

When is it easier to move a half-dozen three-ton animals to another country, rather than protect them in your own? When the animals are white rhinos and South Africa is their home.

In an unprecedented move, &Beyond, a luxury Safari company based in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is proactively protecting six of the country's precious white rhinos by evacuating them from Phinda Game Reserve to a park in neighboring Botswana. After months of preparation, the animals were released last week.

"Botswana has a strong security and monitoring framework in place whereby the Department of Wildlife Anti-Poaching Unit and the Botswana Defense Force help to protect the species," says Les Carlisle, &Beyond Conservation Manager. "It's an ideal opportunity to move our eggs out of one basket."

South Africa continues to be an increasingly deadly "basket" for rhinos. Home to 75 percent of all rhinos on Earth, the country lost 668 to poachers in 2012, and this year, an average of two rhinos die every day in parks and private game reserves alike. Experts predict that over 1,000 rhinos will die in 2013 to feed the seemingly insatiable medicine markets of China and Vietnam.

The rhinos' new home is Botswana's breathtaking Okavango Delta, where the waters of the Okavango River spill into the Kalahari desert, creating lagoons full of lilies.

It's famous for being one of the only places on Earth where visitors can experience a full African safari by canoe. All six of Phinda's rhinos have been outfitted with radio collars and microchips and are under military protection.

Earlier this month, four suspected poachers, armed with high-caliber hunting rifles, silencers, axes and six rounds of live ammunition, were apprehended in Phinda Reserve. Just weeks earlier, three other suspected poachers, similarly armed for killing, were arrested in a town just north of the private reserve.

It would seem that the decision to get the six rhinos out of South Africa could not have come at a better time. On top of it all, one of the female rhinos just released has a baby on the way.

Hopefully this new addition to the dwindling rhino population will never know what it's like to hide from poachers or watch family members die. Maybe in its new home, it can spend time worrying about more normal rhino things, like how to scratch that annoying itch on its back, and where the best mud bath can be found on a sunny afternoon.

What sorts of consequences should rhino poachers face? Let us know in the Comments.