By Kevin Heath
Two of the world’s leading breeding centres for the black rhino run by the Aspinall Foundation in the UK have been given specific warnings this weekend that their breeding centres at Port Lympne and Howletts Wild Animal Parks in Kent are being targeted by rhino poachers.
The parks are now appealing for volunteers to help the centres maintain security at the rhino enclosures and they are asking visitors to the parks to report any suspicious activity immediately to park staff.
The Aspinall Foundation is the most successful breeder of black rhino in the world. In the last seven years, the Foundation’s unique animal husbandry has seen the successful births of 33 black rhino, in captivity. The Aspinall Foundation’s rhino are kept in the relative freedom of hundreds of acres of Kent countryside and are currently part of the Foundation’s Back To The Wild programme.
Damian Aspinall said: “It is tragic and beyond belief that, as we do everything possible to restore these magnificent animals safely to the wild, the human traders who seek to profit from their slaughter should bring their vile activities to the UK.
“In the light of what Kent police have told us is a genuine threat, we will do everything to protect our herds. Our volunteers will be recruited responsibly after careful vetting.
Their presence will enable us to be vigilant and alert at every point at which the rhino could possibly come under threat.
“We would also ask that visitors to Howletts and Port Lympne report any suspicious behaviour to staff and volunteers.”
If the threat proves to be valid then this would be a major step up in poaching in the UK where endangered species are concerned. Private collectors and museums that have trophy horns and heads have been targeted in the past for their horns but this will be the first time – to my knowledge – that a real threat has been identified to living rhinos in the UK.
The threat also highlights how rhino poaching is a truly international trade and the value of rhino horn means that no rhino is truly safe even when held in captivity in a relatively safe and secure country. Lets hope the threat does not turn into reality. Let’s also hope the government realise the value in providing long-term and secure funding to the National Wildlife Crime Unit.