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Conservationists commence ambitious 'rewilding' project with release of 40 at-risk rhinos: 'This is just the beginning'

There are flickers of hope for rhinos.

There are flickers of hope for rhinos.

Photo Credit: iStock

Conservationists have just released 40 southern white rhinos on a private reserve in South Africa as part of a larger effort to rewild this animal across the continent.

The non-profit conservation group African Parks announced its donation of the rhinos to the Munywana Conservancy, and they are now roaming its 29,866-hectare (73,800-acre) reserve. The move was part of an effort by African Parks to place 2,000 of these animals into secure, protected areas across Africa over the next decade, Good Things Guy reported.

Southern white rhinos were once thought to be extinct, but in 1895, a small group of less than 100 individuals was discovered in South Africa. Thanks to over a century of protection efforts, around 18,000 exist today. 

However, these gargantuan mammals have lost much of their historic range and are listed as near threatened. According to African Parks, white rhinos, which include two distinct subspecies with distinct ranges — the southern white rhino and the northern white rhino — are still under extreme pressure due to poaching and habitat loss. 

Continued conservation work, like the donation by African Parks, will help ensure that they don't end up like the northern white rhino, of which only two survive in the wild. Meanwhile, three species of rhino — black, Javan, and Sumatran — are critically endangered.

Safeguarding our surviving rhinos isn't just the right thing to do from a species conservation perspective — it also can help provide income for local communities through ecotourism opportunities. 

Rhinos are also important contributors to the savannas where they live. By munching on large amounts of vegetation, they help shape the African landscape and keep the ecosystem in balance. This not only benefits the other animals but also provides services to humans, who rely on the natural resources within these habitats for food, fuel, and income. 

Plus, savannas store about 30% of the world's terrestrial carbon, so safeguarding these ecosystems can benefit our quest to curb the overheating of our planet.

Luckily, there are flickers of hope for rhinos. In November 2023, conservationists welcomed a critically endangered Sumatran rhino baby in a national park in Indonesia. That same month, zookeepers at the Chester Zoo in England cheered the birth of a critically endangered eastern black rhino.

As for the rewilding of southern white rhinos, "This is just the beginning of a long-term partnership with African Parks where we can play our part in making a tangible contribution to the future of the southern white rhino in Africa," Damian Aspinall, chairman of WeWild Africa, said in a statement. WeWild Africa is one of several organizations that helped with the first translocation.

Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks, added, "The crux of the solution, and the ultimate success for rewilding these 2,000 rhino(s), lies in the existence of safe, well-protected and effectively managed areas across Africa, of which the Munywana Conservancy is an excellent example."

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