By Godfrey Marawanyika
Zimbabwe loaded five black rhinos onto a plane bound for Botswana Wednesday, its first such exports since the 1990s, as part of conservation efforts amid an increase in poaching in southern Africa.
The animals were secured in crates loaded onto a camouflaged Botswana Defense Force plane at the Buffalo Range Airport near Chiredzi, a town about 430 kilometers (267 miles) southeast of the capital, Harare. The exports follow the relocation of rhinos to Botswana from South Africa
“We agreed that we’d send 20 black rhinos to them as part of conservation efforts within the region,” Zimbabwean Environment Secretary Prince Mupazviriho said in an interview. The remaining rhinos will be transported at later date.
Botswana has become a safe haven from poachers for the animals. Rhinos are killed for their horns, which are ground into powder and sold as a putative cancer cure in Vietnam and China. Zimbabwe last exported them in the early 1990s, with Australia the destination, according to official records from the Ministry of Environment. A black rhino bull was exported to Botswana in the early 2000s.
The animals will be relocated to the Moremi game reserve in Botswana, which was found to be suitable and where “the rhinos would be adequately protected post-release,” said Mark Saunders, the executive director of the Malilangwe Trust, which supplied the rhinos.
As the plane was leaving, the rangers who were looking after the rhinos sang “we looked after you, now it’s Botswana’s turn to look after you,” in a local language, Shangani.
A record 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year, with the majority hunted in Kruger National Park. The country, home to most of the world’s rhinos, has relocated at least 100 to neighboring nations following discussions with Botswana and Zambia.
Male black rhinos can weigh as many as 1,400 kilograms (3,090 pounds), while females are about 900 kilograms in size, data on Save the Rhino’s website show.
There are about 700 rhinos in Zimbabwe, which plans to release 40 into the Gonarezhou reserve, a 5,053 square-kilometer (1,950 square-mile) park where they vanished because of poaching in the early 1990s. Authorities are boosting manpower in the area as at least 25 elephants have been killed there for their ivory this year.
Poachers from Mozambique have killed elephants near the eastern border it shares with Zimbabwe and South Africa while incursions from Mozambique saw about 800 rhinos killed in South Africa’s Kruger Park last year.
The illicit global trade of wildlife is as worth as much as $10 billion, according to London-based Chatham House.