Rhinos to be moved from South Africa to Botswana in anti-poaching drive

Relocation of up to 100 rhinos comes after record numbers of the animals were killed in South Africa last year

Up to 100 rhinos will be moved from South Africa across the border to Botswana's remote wilderness in an attempt to put them beyond the reach of rampant poaching, conservationists said on Wednesday.

The mass relocation comes after a record 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year and the failure of every measure tried so far to curtail the scourge, which is fuelled by demand for horn in Asia. The crisis is under discussion at a global summit in London on Thursday aimed at beating back the illegal wildlife trade.

The latest $8m (£4.82m) initiative was announced jointly by two conservation companies, Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond. They said each rhino would be tagged and microchipped for research and monitoring. A dedicated anti-poaching team will then work with Botswana's government to monitor the animals.

"There is a battle for Africa's wildlife raging as we speak," said Dereck Joubert, chief executive of Great Plains. "Rhinos are being poached at a rate of one every nine hours and the official number is 1,004 dead in 2013 alone.

"The unofficial number, because we simply do not find them all, is well over 1,000. Like everyone, I've been watching this desperate situation worsen, which is why Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond have decided to take action."

Joss Kent, chief executive of &Beyond, which relocated six rhinos from South Africa to Botswana last year, added: "Botswana has an excellent security system in place to protect these endangered animals and will be a safe haven for the relocated rhino.

"Translocations are fundamental to secure the ongoing survival of endangered species and this groundbreaking project aims to protect the species for future generations to enjoy. A project this size requires a strong partnership and a huge resource pool to pull it off."

The company said it would announce specific fundraising initiatives to enable tourism stakeholders, travel partners, tour operators and guests to help save the rhino.

South Africa National Parks welcomed the plan. Spokesman Isaac Phaahla told AFP: "The initiative would be a good one; we need every initiative to save the species."

South Africa is home to around 80% of the world's rhino population, estimated at more than 25,000. Most dwell in the vast Kruger national park, where more than 60% of South Africa's rhino poaching occurs.

Botswana's president, Ian Khama, is among the speakers at the London conference on the illegal wildlife trade. The landlocked southern African country can point to positive examples such as Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a reserve, where not a single animal has been poached since its creation 24 years ago.

The use of surveillance drones, the poisoning of rhino horns and the legalisation of the trade in horn have all been offered as solutions to South Africa's poaching crisis. The numbers killed have soared from 13 in 2007 to 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011 and 668 in 2012.


David Smith in Johannesburg

The GuardianTramp

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