After a 17-year absence, white rhinos are roaming the savannas of Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sixteen southern white rhinos, a species that was nearly wiped out by poaching, were released into the vast park last week, in a landmark conservation effort.
The rhinos were transported from a private reserve in South Africa, where they were bred and cared for, to Garamba, one of Africa’s oldest national parks. The park was once home to the northern white rhino, a subspecies that is now on the brink of extinction, with only two females remaining in Kenya.
The reintroduction of the southern white rhinos, which are genetically similar to their northern cousins, is part of a larger initiative to restore the ecological balance and diversity of the park, which has suffered from decades of conflict, poaching and insecurity.
“The return of white rhinos to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a testament to our country’s commitment to biodiversity conservation,” said Yves Milan Ngangay, the director general of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, which led the operation in collaboration with African Parks, a conservation NGO, and Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company that sponsored the project.
“Introducing southern white rhino to this area will enhance Garamba National Park’s contribution to the wildlife economy of the DRC, ensuring that the conservation of the country’s outstanding natural landscapes generates long-term benefits for local communities and all Congolese,” African Parks said in a statement.
The southern white rhino is classified as near threatened on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated 10,080 individuals alive. The species was once widespread across southern Africa, but was reduced to a single population of less than 100 animals by the end of the 19th century due to hunting. Thanks to intensive protection and management efforts, the population has recovered significantly, but still faces threats from habitat loss and poaching for their horns.
Peter Fearnhead, African Parks CEO, said that the fate of the northern white rhino should serve as a warning and a motivation for saving the southern white rhino. “Efforts to save the northern white rhino was a case of ‘too little too late’ and should never be allowed to happen again. Now that Garamba is a safe location and has proper protection in place, this reintroduction is the start of a process whereby southern white rhino as the closest genetic alternative can fulfil the role of the northern white rhino in the landscape,” he said.
The 16 rhinos were airlifted from South Africa to an airstrip near Garamba, where they were released into a fenced area for acclimatization. They will be monitored by professional staff and veterinarians until they are ready to roam freely in the park. More southern white rhinos are expected to be sent to Garamba in the future.
The park authorities hope that the rhinos will adapt well to their new environment and breed successfully. They also hope that their presence will attract more tourists and generate more revenue for conservation and community development.
“This translocation forms part of a larger conservation initiative within the Garamba Complex (GC) to restore the full richness of the megaherbivore complement in the park after the last northern white rhino was poached in 2006 and has since become functionally extinct as a sub-species,” African Parks said.
– White Rhinos Return to DRC Park After Absence of 17 Years, WNCT, June 13, 2023
– White rhinos reintroduced to DR Congo national park, Al Jazeera, June 11, 2023
– White Rhino return to Garamba National Park, African Parks, June 10, 2023
– 16 White Rhinos Reintroduced to DR Congo National Park After 40 Years, Nature World News, June 12, 2023