Rhinos to return to Chad in airlift after five-decade absence

ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK, South Africa, May 3 (Reuters) - Almost 50 years after they were hunted to local extinction, black rhinos will again roam the wilds of the Central African nation of Chad, the latest chapter in a movement to bring big mammals back to former ranges on the continent.

On Thursday, six rhinos were flown to Chad’s Zakouma National Park from the South African city of Port Elizabeth, sedated and confined in specially-crafted crates to ensure they don’t cause a commotion mid-air.

The initiative comes against the backdrop of a poaching crisis that saw more than 1,000 rhinos slain in South Africa last year to meet red-hot demand for their horns in Asia, where they are prized for their alleged medicinal properties.

With 18,000 white rhinos and 2,000 of the smaller black rhino, South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the global population of the pachyderms, making it the springboard for reintroduction efforts elsewhere.

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Rhinos return to Chad in airlift
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Rhinos return to Chad in airlift
One of the six black Rhinos is waiting to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 1, 2018, at the Addo Elephants National Park in South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black rhinos due to be relocated to Chad is seen in an enclosure at Addo Elephant National Park, near Addo, South Africa, May 2, 2018. Picture taken May 2 2018. REUTERS/Sisipho Skweyiya
South African National Parks (SANParks), African Parks veterinarians and Cargo Personnels from the Port Elizabeth International Airport load six rhinoceros to be transported and reintroduced to Chads Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black rhinos due to be relocated to Chad is seen in an enclosure at Addo Elephant National Park, near Addo, South Africa, May 2, 2018. Picture taken May 2 2018. REUTERS/Ed Stoddard
South African National Parks (SANPARKS), African Parks veterinaries and Cargo Personel from the Port Elizabeth airport load six Rhinos to be transported and re-introduced to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black rhinos due to be relocated to Chad is seen in an enclosure at Addo Elephant National Park, near Addo, South Africa, May 2, 2018. Picture taken May 2 2018. REUTERS/Ed Stoddard
South African police escorts trucks loaded with six Black Rhinos to be transported and reintroduced to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018 as they leave the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
South African National Parks (SANPARKS), African Parks veterinaries and personnel load six Rhinos to be transported and re- introduced to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos to be transported and re-introduced to Chad's Zakouma National Park roams through an enclosed precinct getting used to enter a crate two days ahead of his relocation on May 2, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos to be translocated and re-introduced to Chad's Zakouma National Park is fed as it roams through an enclosed precinct getting used to enter a crate two days ahead of his relocation on May 1, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos is waiting to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 1, 2018, at the Addo Elephants National Park in South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos to be transported and re-introduced to Chad's Zakouma National Park roams through an enclosed precinct getting used to enter a crate two days ahead of his relocation on May 2, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
South African National Parks (SANParks), African Parks veterinarians and Cargo Personnels from the Port Elizabeth International Airport load six rhinoceros to be transported to Chads Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
South African National Parks (SANPARKS), African Parks veterinaries and personnel load six Rhinos to be transported to Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: Addo Elephants National Park in Addo instead of Port Elizabeth. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Staff members of the Veterinary Wildlife Services load six rhinoceros to be transported to Chads Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018, at the at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: Addo Elephants National Park instead of Port Elizabeth International Airport. Please immediately remove the erroneous mentions from all your online services and delete it from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
South African National Parks (SANPARKS), African Parks veterinaries and personnel load six Rhinos to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: Addo Elephants National Park in Addo instead of Port Elizabeth. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
South African National Parks (SANPARKS), African Parks veterinaries and personnel check on a Black Rhino before loading six Rhinos to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 3, 2018 at the Addo Elephants National Park in Addo, South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos is waiting to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 1, 2018, at the Addo Elephants National Park in South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos is waiting to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 1, 2018, at the Addo Elephants National Park in South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the six black Rhinos is waiting to be transported to Chad's Zakouma National Park on May 1, 2018, at the Addo Elephants National Park in South Africa. - Six critically endangered black rhinos were en route from South Africa to Chad on May 3, 2018 in a pioneering project to re-introduce the animals to a country where they were wiped out by poaching nearly 50 years ago. Black rhinos are rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
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"By establishing a viable and secure population of rhino in Chad, we are contributing to the expansion of the rhino population in Africa, and the survival of a species that has faced high levels of poaching," said South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa.

No rhino has been seen in Chad since the early 1970s.

African Parks, a non-government organization which runs Chad's Zakouma and other reserves, has also reintroduced rhinos and lions from South Africa to Rwanda and is planning to relocate lions to Malawi.

"We have been using the history of conservation success in South Africa to repopulate other areas in Africa," Andrew Parker, director of conservation at African Parks, told Reuters as a hulking rhino lumbered about its holding pen below him.

The Chad-bound rhinos were in the fortified enclosures or "bomas" for three months in preparation for their long haul.

The animals have been fed lucerne, a kind of super-nutritious hay, the past few weeks. It will be initially provided to them in Chad as they adjust their diet to new trees and shrubs.

Security has been tight: the animals’ location was kept under wraps, they will be given a police escort to the airport, and in Chad they will be dehorned and fitted with transponders.

Jumbo-sized logistics and planning go into such an operation: the animals were tranquilised in Marakele National Park in northern South Africa and then brought to Addo, which has better facilities.

Cranes hoisted the crates containing the rhinos onto flat-bed trucks and they will be monitored carefully by vets on the plane for the 15-hour trip which involves two stops.

The hope is that the two bulls and four cows will establish a breeding herd which will be the most northern wild population of the species in Africa.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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