Five eastern black rhinos (Diceros bicornis michaeli), a critically endangered species, recently were returned to the Serengeti National Park as part of an ambitious initiative to boost the viability of Tanzania's rhino population.
The May 21 flight and five future flights to deliver the rhinos to Serengeti National Park are sponsored by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Nduna Foundation and the Wildlife Without Borders program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The rhinos' safe arrival is a remarkable achievement for rhino conservation and for cooperation between nations, according to the USFWS. During the next two years, a total of 32 eastern black rhinos will be returned as part of the Serengeti Rhino Repatriation Project, more than doubling the number of rhinos in the Serengeti.
"The Serengeti Rhino Repatriation Project is an unprecedented collaboration among African nations and the United States of America for the good of conservation," Michelle Gadd, the program coordinator for the USFWS African rhino conservation program, told America.gov June 11. "At a time when so many wildlife species are under threat, it is fantastic to see a population being restored."
The project aims to restore biodiversity in northern Tanzania by doubling the existing population of black rhinos in the Serengeti and by reâ-Âestablishing connections among rhino populations in Tanzania and Kenya. The project is the culmination of years of work led by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Tanzania National Parks, the Singita Grumeti Fund and the governments of Tanzania and South Africa.
During the last century, Africa's black rhino population plummeted by more than 90 percent, reaching an allâ-Âtime low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Concerted efforts to improve security in rhino areas have allowed recovery of some populations, but rhinos remain under serious threat.
Today, three subspecies of black rhino are listed as critically endangered on the "Red List" of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); one, the western black subspecies, is feared extinct. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Kenya home to an estimated 600 rhinos and Tanzania hosting fewer than 100.
Members of the IUCN, which describes itself as "the world's oldest and largest global environmental network," include more than 1,000 government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. It draws on the expertise of nearly 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.
Its Red List of Threatened SpeciesâÂ„Â¢ provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants and animals that have been evaluated globally to determine their relative risk of extinction and highlights those plants and animals that face a high risk of global extinction.
THE LONG ROAD HOME
The 32 black rhinos destined for Serengeti National Park are descendants of animals that were taken from Kenya to South Africa in the 1960s. Originally kept in the national parks' estate, they were sold into private hands in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, in Tanzania, illegal poaching of rhinos decimated the native wild black rhinos.
In recent decades, increased security efforts on private and public lands have helped black rhinos recover in some parts of East Africa. In preparation for welcoming the returning black rhinos, the Serengeti National Park strengthened security throughout the park and created an elite rhino-protection force trained to safeguard the rhinos and their habitat for years to come.
Reports from the veterinarians caring for the repatriated rhinos indicate that the animals are adapting well to their new home in the Serengeti, the USFWS said. All five rhinos are drinking water and beginning to feed on local vegetation -- requirements that must be met before they are released from temporary enclosures and granted access to the entire park.
The return of these rhinos is a significant landmark for natural resource conservation in Tanzania because the rebound of rhino populations will help restore one of the Serengeti's flagship species and will help maintain northern Tanzania as a tourist destination where all of Tanzania's native flora and fauna can be viewed.
The rhino repatriation program is part of a broader long-term effort to restore the Serengeti, an effort the United States is proud to support.
"We are delighted to have been able to support the years of preparation which made this translocation possible," Gadd said. "We wholeheartedly congratulate our partners in achieving such an amazing feat. The American public can be pleased that our small donation has helped return such a critically endangered species to its natural range."