Nonprofit Buys Millionaire’s Rhino-Breeding Program With Eyes on Rewilding
Conservation NGO African Parks has announced that it will work to rewild more than 2,000 southern white rhinos over the next decade.
The organization has purchased Platinum Rhino, the planet’s biggest private captive breeding operation for rhinos, a press release from African Parks said. The property covers more than 19,000 acres in South Africa’s North West province.
The 2,000 rhinos at Platinum Rhino represent as much as 15 percent of the remaining population of wild rhinos in the world.
“African Parks had no intention of being the owner of a captive rhino breeding operation with 2,000 rhino[s]. However, we fully recognise the moral imperative of finding a solution for these animals so that they can once again play their integral role in fully functioning ecosystems,” said CEO of African Parks Peter Fearnhead in the press release.
African Parks, along with a dozen African governments, manages 22 protected areas.
Platinum Rhino was auctioned in April of this year due to financial strain, but received no bids. Without the protection of the private operation, the rhinos would be at risk of habitat fragmentation and poaching.
“Breeding rhinos is an expensive hobby,” said John Hume, the breeder who opened Platinum Rhino in 2009, in an interview with AFP, as reported by Africanews.
Hume said he had spent $150 million trying to save the majestic mammal, but had “run out of money.”
African Parks decided to purchase the Platinum Rhino property and all the rhinos under its protection after partnering with the South African government to conduct an assessment of the property. African Parks has previously translocated rhinos back to Malawi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as managed protected areas.
The single objective of African Parks is to rewild rhinos over the course of the next 10 years. Its goal is to place them in secure and well-managed areas in order to supplement or establish strategic populations so that the species will no longer be in as great of risk.
“The scale of this undertaking is simply enormous, and therefore daunting. However, it is equally one of the most exciting and globally strategic conservation opportunities,” Fearnhead said in the press release. “We will be working with multiple governments, funding partners and conservation organisations, who are committed to making this rewilding vision a reality.”
African Parks will phase out the Platinum Rhino breeding program and release all the white rhinos into the wild in one of the biggest continent-wide undertakings to rewild any species.
African Parks has been working alongside local communities and governments for more than two decades to make sure protected areas and their ecosystems are safeguarded.
“On behalf of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, I would like to congratulate African Parks and Mr. Hume for reaching this important agreement which facilitates a conservation solution for the rhino[s] currently in a captive facility,” said Barbara Creecy, who is the South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, in the press release.
“Our Government is guided in our approach to conservation by the UN Convention on Biodiversity and our own white paper. In this regard we are ready to support African Parks and other partners with technical and scientific advice in developing a conservation solution that includes translocating the animals over a period of time to suitable parks and community conservancies in South Africa and on the African continent,” Creecy added.
Rhinos were originally made up of two distinct subspecies: the northern and southern white rhino. Just two female northern white rhinos exist in captivity in Kenya and are not being bred, making the subspecies functionally extinct.
The southern white rhino population consists of less than 13,000 individuals after rebounding to around 20,000 following a historic low of 30 to 40 individuals in the 1930s. They are poached for their horns, which are sold in the illegal wildlife trade.
“The conservation sector is delighted that African Parks can provide a credible solution for this important population, and a significant lifeline for this Near Threatened species,” said Dr. Mike Knight, chairman of the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group, in the press release. “This acquisition provides the unique opportunity to re-wild these 2,000 white rhino[s] for the benefit of people and rhino conservation in Africa.”