The Aspinall Foundation, headed by passionate conservationist and wild animal park owner, Damian Aspinall, has successfully translocated three critically endangered black rhino from Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent back to the wild.
The move, to boost reintroduced populations of black rhino in the wild, is a bold decision given the stark and current threat of poaching. With a wild population thought to number less than 800 individuals, Eastern black rhino are the rarest of the three remaining rhino subspecies in Africa. The Aspinall Foundation has successfully carried out similar reintroductions and is confident that the heavily guarded reserve will be the perfect place for the three rhino to give the indigenous population of black rhino a much needed boost.
Damian Aspinall said: ‘This represents a massive step in the unique ambitions of our Foundation. We have always been passionately committed to restocking natural habitats with species which have become critically endangered.’
The three rhinos - two females named Grumeti and Zawadi and one male named Monduli attracted royal attention when Prince William, the Royal Patron of Tusk Trust, paid a private visit to them and their keepers at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park whilst filming for the recent BBC documentary, The Prince, The Poacher And The Rhino. The prince came face to face with Zawadi and even took part in hand feeding her. During the exclusive interview with the BBC, the prince lashed out at poachers and those responsible for fuelling the desire for rhino horn describing them as, ‘ignorant, selfish and wrong.’
Grumeti and Monduli, were born at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, whilst Zawadi joined the park from Berlin Zoo. The group, now enjoying the African climate, were subject to weeks of patient training by keepers who have been painstakingly preparing the intrepid three for their African adventure. As part of this preparation the rhino’s diets were gradually changed and the rhino also spent time on the African Experience, a 140 acre site at the wild animal park, where they mixed with other African wildlife such as zebra, giraffe and wildebeest.
Adrian Harland, Animal Director said: ‘Our dedicated keepers have been working closely with Monduli, Grumeti and Zawadi over the last few months, preparing them for life in Tanzania. Their diet has been altered to include even more fresh browse and leaves, as this is what they will be primarily eating in the wild and the keepers have been with them every day using a lot of contact techniques in order to reassure them during the flight and at their new home. I’m delighted that the move went so smoothly and I have to thank everyone involved for making this operation successful.’
The three rhino flew from Manston airport to a refuelling stop in Bergamo, Italy and then on to Kilimanjaro National Airport in Tanzania. DHL, the world’s leading logistics provider, laid on a specially customised Boeing 757 aircraft specifically modified to provide safe and supervised transportation, during which, the rhinos were provided with in – flight meals of carrots, celery, lucerne (hay), apples, spinach and bananas. See the journey in pictures, from entering their special travel crates to their first glimpse of their new home in Tanzania.
The enormous undertaking, in partnership with Tusk Trust, DHL,Virgin Unite and Manston Airport, has put The Aspinall Foundation at the forefront of conservation and established the charity as a cutting edge organisation confident to undertake ambitious and bold plans to maintain their efforts to protect species under real threat from extinction.
Charlie Mayhew, CEO of Tusk Trust commented: ‘The success of this delicate operation is as a result of months of careful collaborative work between The Aspinall Foundation and Tusk Trust. We are particularly grateful to DHL one of Tusk’s corporate partners, for their immense generosity in providing the aircraft for this historic move.’
Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Unite, the not for profit foundation of the Virgin Group, also supported the translocation of the rhinos by providing a generous donation to cover the costs of creating special comfortable crates for the rhinos to travel.
The move is just one of the pioneering conservation charity’s goals this year, with other captive born animals expected to be released to the wild during the course of the next few months and into 2013. Follow the animals’ stories with keepers’ blogs, video footage and exclusive pictures at www.aspinallfoundation.org/backtothewild