ERP’s proposition to provide
a safe haven for rhinos in the US
ERP is working on an ambitious plan to relocate threatened white rhinos from danger zones in South Africa, to the United States. This plan is predicated upon the simple notion that ‘if we cannot take the danger away from the rhinos, then we need to take the rhinos away from the danger’.
Named ‘Rhino1000’, the plan is not to transfer 1,000 rhinos but rather to relocate appropriately sized breeding groups – together with orphaned rhino calves – from which it is hoped that a US based rhino population may grow into an insurance herd of 1,000 over a 10-year period.
Poachers – members of well-organized criminal networks – are slaughtering rhinos in South Africa at the rate of one every 5 hours, at present. If this crisis continues unabated along the current trajectory, rhinos may well become critically endangered in the wild in South Africa in the not too distant future. Against that backdrop, if the Rhino1000 venture were to be successful, it could serve as an insurance herd from which herds of rhinos may be repatriated to South Africa in the future, once the rhino horn madness has subsided.
Rhino calves that are currently orphaned and which would be relocated to the US would be placed into new rhino orphanages to be established on US ranches. At the earliest feasible opportunity, they would be reintroduced to the wild and roam free in care of these ranches. Where (currently) wild rhinos are brought over, they would be released to roam free in care of ranches as soon as they are clear of regulatory requirements.
The climate and environment of many parts in southern US are similar to parts of South Africa in which rhinos are currently found or once roamed. The rhinos would be protected and allowed to roam free on ranch land and there would be a prohibition in perpetuity on any hunting of them or their progeny, no matter what the circumstances.
The project involves securing suitable land in the US on which the rhinos could safely roam free, and simultaneously identifying rhino owners in South Africa who might be willing to donate their rhinos to the program. The model will be based on ERP taking full ownership of the rhinos and their offspring with the US based ranchers to act as guardians to protect the rhino, far more so than private rhino owners in South Africa are capable of. As such there will be no commercial gain from the project, the only beneficiary will be the species itself.
Rhinos have recently been successfully relocated from South Africa to Botswana (as part of an initiative which ERP is not involved with). Rhino1000 should be seen as augmenting rather than being an alternative to such laudable initiatives.
There are still myriad hurdles to be crossed – including but not limited to regulatory ones at both the departure and destination points – but preliminary planning indicates that what is sought to be achieved, is feasible. ERP has assembled a strong, multifaceted team and plans to relocate the first group of rhinos when the death rate exceeds the birth rate and a minimum threshold of rhinos is reached.
The insurance herd aspects of Rhino1000 are designed to augment ERP activities focused on protection of rhinos in South and Southern Africa without having to relocate them, rather than to replace these activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Will the relocated rhinos (or their progeny) be hunted?
Absolutely NOT. Relocating the rhinos to the US is a means of preserving and saving a species from extinction in Southern Africa. Once demand for rhino horn subsides and/or poaching and criminal syndicates involved in poaching are brought under control in South Africa, the US based herd will be a source from where herds of rhinos may be repatriated in the future.
2. Will the relocated rhinos be kept in a zoo-like environment?
Absolutely NOT. Rhinos will be able to roam freely within the confines of large privately owned ranches similar to the game farms and preserves in which privately owned rhinos are kept in South Africa.
3. Why isn’t the rhinos safe in South Africa?
There has been a tremendous increase in poaching over the past decade fueled by the misguided notions of health benefits in Asian countries, primarily Vietnam and China. There is no scientific evidence for these so-called medicinal benefits, but a combination of ignorance and its value as status symbol attracted the involvement of highly organized international criminal syndicates (some of these syndicates are also involved in drug trafficking, terrorist and other criminal activities). So far, the scale of the problem exceeds the ability of the South African and other governments to deal with the situation and about three to four rhinos are killed every day due to poaching.
4. Will the rhinos survive the journey?
Yes, rhino have been transported to the US before. They will be transported by air under the oversight of wildlife experts and well-qualified wildlife veterinarians. The transfer will be carefully planned with prior agreements and arrangements with authorities to minimize the journey time. All attempts will be made to minimize the stress and trauma of the journey on the animals. A species’ fate is at stake and when unforeseen situations arise we will have the best experts available to help.
5. Why the southern parts of the US?
The climate and environment in the southern parts of the US bears strong similarity to the natural habitat where rhinos are found in Southern Africa. Experts have already assessed the viability of the vegetation as a food source and found this to be compatible with a typical rhino diet. There may be other parts of the world also suitable to support rhino and ERP will support similar relocation efforts if it meets the criteria of being a viable and safe location for rhinos.
6. Why is this important?
There is an emotional response to this question articulating our deep love for Africa and nature and we simply feel that the world will be a much poorer place without these mega fauna and want our children and grandchildren also to marvel at their splendor. From a scientific point of view, the world loses an estimated 150 – 200 species every day (source: United Nations Environment Programme) and focusing on one of our very prominent species may help us, as custodians of our planet, to critically evaluate our human activities and their impact.
7. Will rhinos really go extinct?
They already have! The West African Black Rhinoceros has officially been declared extinct in 2011. The West African Black Rhino was one of four subspecies of black rhinoceros. The other three remaining subspecies are all in danger due to poaching activities.
There are only five remaining Northern White Rhinoceros left in the world which are all in captivity. Rhinos rarely breed in captivity and therefore it is likely that we will see the end of this subspecies in our lifetimes.