By Rebecca Salinas
In an effort to ease the killings of three to five rhinos per week in South Africa, one Texas-based conservation organization is seeking to transport 1,000 orphaned white rhinos from South Africa to safe havens in South Texas.
The Exotic Wildlife Association, along with Groupelephant.com, is negotiating an agreement with South Africa officials to remove the rhinos, which are highly sought after for their horns.
In a country whose residents average an annual income of $1,700, a rhino horn’s value of more than $360,000 is a driving force in illegal trade, said Charly Seale, executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association.
“In the current rate that they’re going, the white rhino will not exist in South Africa in the next five years,” Seale said. “If you cannot remove the danger from the animal, then you remove the animal from the danger.”
The horns, which value at $90,000 per kilogram, are used for medicinal purposes and furnishings.
According to statistics from Groupelephant.com, Africa contains 20,405 white and 5,055 black rhinos today, as opposed to 70,000 total in 1970 and 500,000 total in the early 20th Century.
Seale said the purpose of bringing the rhinos to South Texas – which has similar climate and terrain to South Africa – is to conserve and propagate the endangered species.
“These animals will never be in commerce, they will not be sold, they will not be hunted,” he said, adding that the rhinos will not be able to “roam around the countryside.”
If the Exotic Wildlife Association and its allies get approval from the U.S. Department of Interior and the South Africa government, then the rhinos would be transported in crates via aircraft.
Once in the U.S., the rhinos would be quarantined until they are adopted into private homes.
“They would still need a lot of care, some of them will be in the weaning ages,” Seale said, adding that the rhinos would be around one year old. “It’s a costly venture, so it’s not for the faint of heart.”
He said adopters would have to go through extensive background checks, and they must build a special facility to house and protect the rhino.
“It’s a lot like raising cattle, except they’re about four to five to times larger,” he said.
In the far future, the Exotic Wildlife Association hopes to have a repatriation program, where they grow the rhino population and return them to South Africa.
But Seale said the program will not be implemented anytime in the near future, until South Africa officials “have a handle over there with the poaching problem.” Photos.