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'Eccentric' billionaire forced to sell his 2,000 captive rhinos following government ban: 'One of the largest … endeavors to occur for any species'

"So I strongly suspect his white rhinos will also do fine."

"So I strongly suspect his white rhinos will also do fine.”

Photo Credit: iStock

John Hume is the world's most prolific private rhino breeder, and his operation has been on the verge of bankruptcy for years, as Save the Rhino reported in 2018.

The reason? A series of government bans on the sale of rhino horns, which Hume claims to harvest humanely from his herd of captive rhinos. Now, an NGO has stepped in and agreed to pay Hume for his rhinos so that they can be rewilded.

Hume, a wealthy South African property developer turned rhino farmer, is a controversial figure. His herd of 2,000 semi-captive rhinos constitutes around 7.4% of the world's total rhino population (there are an estimated 27,000 rhinos currently alive, according to Save the Rhino). 

Hume has claimed that his efforts to breed rhinos and harvest their horns are, in fact, protecting them from poachers. He calls his work a philanthropic project to save the species.

The eccentric billionaire has drawn plenty of backlash with his practice of regularly anesthetizing the rhinos and cutting off their horns in an attempt to sell them. Now, his ability to make money off the animals has been stymied. 

"This is one of the largest continent-wide rewilding endeavors to occur for any species," the NGO said, as Daily Maverick reported, while also adding that Hume's captive-bred rhinos represented nearly 15% of the world's remaining wild rhino population.

Hume — who has reportedly claimed to have sunk $150 million into the project and is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy — was forced to find a buyer for his 2,000 rhinos. 

This was a challenging task. Hume attempted to put the rhinos up for sale in an online auction with an opening bid of $10 million but received no bids, per the Guardian. For a time, the future of his rhinos was uncertain — in a worst-case scenario, they would've been simply abandoned and left at the mercy of poachers.

Luckily, African Parks has stepped in and agreed to purchase the rhinos, with the endorsement of the South African Government and the African Rhino Specialist Group. These organizations will work to rewild the rhinos over 10 years, reports Daily Maverick.

"The key thing will be finding conservation areas that are large enough and secure from poaching," Dr. Mike Knight, chairman of the IUCN specialist group, told Daily Maverick. "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."

Though rewilding the rhinos requires great effort, experts are optimistic about the mission's success.

"I would call them 'semi-wild' rather than 'semi-captive,'" one rhino conservation expert told Daily Maverick. "It's interesting that some of John Hume's black rhinos were sent to a property in Eswatini a few years ago — and within just a few months of their arrival one of the females had been mated by a wild rhino. So I strongly suspect his white rhinos will also do fine."

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