How do you move a rhino? Well the obvious answer is “very carefully” However, a couple of weeks ago an entirely new method was used involving helicopters and some very strong rope to move rhino to a new location. It was a novel experience for gap year students doing volunteer work with animals.Dangling from cords tied to their ankles, 19 hulking animals were transported beneath a helicopter out of the South African hills inaccessible by road in the country’s Eastern Cape. Conservationists used a military helicopter to carry the herd of 1,400-kilo rhinos to their new home, away from poachers. Conservationists put the endangered beasts to sleep and hoisted them, one at a time, for the 15-mile flight. Previously rhinos were either transported by lorry over very difficult tracks, or airlifted in a net. The big move was orchestrated by World Wildlife Fund experts, who then drove the rhinos 1,000 miles to fresh breeding ground in the northern Limpopo province.
Each animal, which weighed at least two tons, spent 20 minutes in the air being flown to safety. The main aim was to ensure the rhinos were moved in a way that would not distress them, so they were darted and put to sleep before being airlifted to a secret location in a bid to increase the number across South Africa.
This new procedure is gentler on the darted rhino because it shortens the time it has to be kept asleep with drugs, the respiration is not as compromised as it can be in a net and it avoids the need for travel in a crate over terrible tracks.
A member of the environmental body “Green Renaissance” was among a team of 25 who helped with the painstaking process.
He said: ‘We couldn’t get trucks to them as they were in a very remote area, so military choppers were needed to bring them out. The helicopters had been tried and tested during exercises so we knew they could carry incredibly heavy things. The mammoth cargo included males that were nearly four metres long, and weighed up to 2,000 kilos.
The project was the first of its kind in South Africa, but previous trips with elephants in Malawi demonstrated how humane the procedure could be. Black rhinos are under threat across Africa, where poachers in safari parks and private reserves kill and maim the beasts for their horns. The operation is one of many conservation attempts to curb the death of the animals, which are classified as ‘critically endangered’. The increase in illegal hunting has been fuelled by a demand for horn in the Far East, where it is ground up and used in traditional medicines.