Sameera Casmod | firstname.lastname@example.org
14 September 2023 | 06:00am SAST
African Parks, a nonprofit organisation with a portfolio of national park management across multiple African countries, recently acquired John Hume’s contentious intensive rhino breeding project, known as Platinum Rhino. This move has elicited widespread approval within South Africa’s conservation community, but it also poses significant challenges.
The heart of the matter lies in African Parks’ ambitious plan to rewild over 2,000 southern white rhinos that were formerly part of Hume’s operation. This endeavour is viewed as both a monumental undertaking and an exceptional conservation opportunity on a global scale, positioning African Parks as a key player in preserving endangered species across the continent.
John Hume, whose wealth stemmed from the development of time-share resorts, invested $150 million over three decades in breeding rhinos. His primary aim was to profit from the trade in rhino horns, but the persistent international ban on such trade ultimately led him to sell his operation. Notably, an auction earlier this year failed to attract any bids, prompting individuals within the conservation community to approach African Parks for assistance.
While the exact purchase price remains undisclosed due to nondisclosure agreements, it was notably lower than Hume’s initial reserve of $10 million, and it was funded by donors. Grant Fowlds, a South African conservationist, and author of “Saving the Last Rhinos,” expressed his support for the transfer of ownership, emphasising the ethical concerns surrounding rhino farming.
Hume’s approach focused on intensive rhino breeding through specialised breeding camps and management strategies that yielded results but garnered mixed opinions within conservation circles. African Parks, in contrast, plans to shift gears by allowing the rhino population to grow naturally. Factoring in these natural increases over the span of a decade, African Parks anticipates translocating a total of 3,000 rhinos into the wild.
Elise Serfontein, the founding director of Stop Rhino Poaching, a South African NGO, lauds the enormity and complexity of this conservation project. Many believe that African Parks is uniquely positioned to execute this venture effectively.
African Parks intends to establish a comprehensive reintroduction framework in collaboration with independent rhino experts. This framework will address various factors, including the criteria for selecting release areas, conducting feasibility studies, implementing security measures, and establishing post-release monitoring protocols. The organisation aims to begin placing rhinos back into the wild by late this year or early 2024, with a target of relocating an average of 300 rhinos annually for the subsequent decade.
One of the primary challenges in rhino conservation over the past decade has been the scarcity of secure, poacher-free habitats where these animals can thrive. This predicament remains a paramount concern for African Parks as they endeavour to provide a safe haven for these rhinos.
Serfontein emphasises that even in well-protected reserves, rhinos still face significant risks. Therefore, the focus has shifted from maintaining a zero poaching rate to swiftly addressing poaching problems to minimise losses.
African Parks brings substantial experience in partnering with governments and local communities to revitalise struggling national parks. Their efforts include bolstering anti-poaching measures through cutting-edge technology and canine units. Additionally, they have demonstrated their capacity for large-scale translocations, as seen in the recent relocation of 500 elephants in Malawi.
The success of this project hinges on securing protected areas for these rhinos. Despite the inherent risks and challenges associated with moving animals, African Parks firmly believes that the risk to the species of not rewilding these 2,000 rhinos far outweighs the challenges associated with translocations.
Furthermore, African Parks remains open to requests from other parks and reserves interested in receiving rhinos under their framework, which will also encompass comprehensive post-release monitoring to ensure the rhinos’ successful adaptation to their wild environments.