South African conservation nonprofit buys rhino breeding farm, plans to rewild 2,000 animals

South African conservation nonprofit buys rhino breeding farm, plans to rewild 2,000 animals

South African conservation nonprofit African Parks will release 2,000 southern white rhinoceroses into the wild over the next decade after purchasing the largest captive rhino breeding outfit in the world, the group said recently.

The Platinum Rhino farm in South Africa’s North West province had been put up for auction in late April after owner John Hume gave up on lobbying to make the rhino trade legal, the nonprofit said Monday in a statement.

Since horns can be sawed off live animals and regrown, legalization would have theoretically made the farm profitable. When no bids came forward, African Parks used emergency funding to acquire the 7,800-hectare property. The price paid for Platinum Rhino was not disclosed.

As the breeding program is phased out, African Parks plans to rewild, or reintroduce, the rhinos to secure areas where they can create new populations or bolster existing ones. At 2,000 individuals, the Platinum Rhino stock represents 15% of the world population of wild southern white rhinos, African Parks said.

“African Parks had no intention of being the owner of a captive rhino breeding operation with 2,000 rhino. However, we fully recognise the moral imperative of finding a solution for these animals so that they can once again play their integral role in fully functioning ecosystems,” African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead said in the statement.

African Parks plans to move 300 rhinos yearly, costing thousands per animal depending on how the individual rhino is transported and where it’s being transported to, Mr. Fearnhead explained to Bloomberg.

Conservation experts think, based on past successes with other rewilded animals originally kept by Mr. Hume, that the rewilding of the rhinos should go smoothly.

“I would call them ‘semi-wild’ rather than ‘semi-captive.’ It’s interesting that some of John Hume‘s black rhinos were sent to a property in Eswatini a few years ago — and within just a few months of their arrival one of the females had been mated by a wild rhino. So I strongly suspect his white rhinos will also do fine. Obviously, this will depend on where they are going,” Richard Emslie, a South African rhino conservation expert, told the country’s Daily Maverick newspaper.

Conservationist Dave Balfour of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela University told New Scientist magazine, “Most people that I have spoken to, and myself, seem to think that they will generally do fine if they are released into appropriate habitat and with adequate available water of reasonable quality.”

Eswatini was known as the Kingdom of Swaziland until 2018.