LONDON -- South African Conservation Group African Parks has announced it is set to release 2,000 southern white rhinos into the wild in what is set to be one of Africa’s largest rewilding programs of any species.
The "rewilding" -- which is set to take place over the next 10 years -- comes following the purchase by African Parks of one of the world’s largest private captive rhino farms, Platinum Rhino.
“As a result of financial stress, Platinum Rhino was put up for auction on April 26 but did not receive any bids, putting these rhinos a serious risk of poaching and fragmentation,” said African Parks in a statement.
Platinum Rhino had been owned previously by South African conservationist, John Hume.
“I have used all my life savings spending on that population or Rhinos for 30 years", Hume told Reporters in April. “I am hoping that there is a billionaire that would rather save the population of rhinos from extinction than own a superyacht.”
The conservation NGO secured "emergency funding" and purchased the 7,800-hectare property (19,274 acres) and its 2,000 near-threatened inhabitants, which represent almost 15% of the world’s remaining southern white rhino population.
“We fully recognize the moral imperative of finding a solution for these animals so that they can once again play their integral role in fully functioning ecosystems,” said African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead. “The scale of this undertaking is simply enormous and therefore daunting. However, it is equally one of the most exciting and globally strategic conservation opportunities. We will be working with multiple governments, funding partners and conservation organizations, who are committed to making this rewilding vision a reality.”
Africa’s Rhino population has been under extreme pressure -- decimated by factors such as poaching, driven by illegal ivory trade, and habitat loss. According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), as many as 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia at the start of the 20th century.
Today, there an estimated 22,137 Rhinos remaining in Africa, according to the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG); 15,942 of which are white rhinos.
South Africa is home to Africa’s largest rhino population and rhinos are also commonly found in neighboring Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, with their populations slowly increasing thanks to successful conservation efforts.
Only two surviving members of the functionally extinct northern white rhino subspecies remain in the world -- Najin and Fatu -- both living under 24-hour protection in Kenya’s Ol-Pejeta Conservancy.
“The conservation sector is delighted that African parks can provide a credible solution for this important population, and a significant lifeline for this near threatened species,” said Dr. Mike Knight, Chairman of the African rhino specialist group.
The southern white rhinos are set to be translocated over the next decade to suitable parks and conservancies across South Africa and the African continent.