In May 2013, Ray Dearlove was contacted by a group of people in South Africa regarding the plight of rhinoceros in Africa, and in South Africa, in particular. At that time, the statistics were as follows: 333 rhinos killed by poachers in 2010; 448 in 2011 and 668 in 2012. Clearly, the problem was getting worse and this group of concerned individuals feared for the worst and suggested to Ray that a breeding herd of rhinos - both black and white - be established in Australia. The suggestion was that this should be located in the north of the continent where the belief was that the climate and ecology would be ideally suited for such a project.
Ray and his wife, Margaret, decided to take the idea a step further and contacted good friends, Allan and Lyn Davies who own a property in the upper Hunter Valley. They enthusiastically agreed to become involved and after a very brief 'planning session' over coffee, it was decided to take another (fairly tentative) step by contacting the Veterinary Faculty at the University of Sydney, with whom Allan had strong relationships. Allan and Ray met with Professor David Emery, the Pro-Dean and Professor of Parasitology and Jackie Dalton, Development Officer of the Veterinary Foundation. David and Jackie shared their views about the scale of the project (this was not the last time that this point was raised!), but agreed to support the idea but were unequivocal that the project had very limited chances of success without involving the Taronga Conservation Society of Australia. Taronga has two campuses, one in Sydney, with, arguably, the best outlook in the world overlooking Sydney Harbour, the Bridge and the Opera House. The other is the Western Plains Zoo, which is located at Dubbo, approximately five hours from Sydney.
What was not known at that time was Taronga's experience with managing insurance populations for key conservation species - one of the flagships of this, is the Black Rhinoceros program with more animals bred at Dubbo than anywhere else outside of Africa. Or Taronga Western Plains Zoo's history and experience with establishing and managing populations of Rhinos, specifically, with over 30 years' experience with White Rhino's and over 20 years' experience with Southern Black Rhinos.
In addition, Taronga was a Founding Member of the International Rhinoceros Foundation with CEO, Cameron Kerr, a current director. Cameron was on record as saying, that he wanted part of his legacy to be having contributed to the conservation of rhino in Australia.
Cam and his team - Simon Duffy, Nick Boyle and Matt Fuller - enthusiastically grasped the concept and we agreed that before embarking on this journey we would thoroughly research whether or not the plan to establish a breeding herd for rhinos in Australia was feasible.
A Steering Committee was formed to guide them through the next phase of the project and this group of committed people, under the leadership of Ray Dearlove, really drove the process.
Taronga appointed Nick Boyle, Curator of Taronga, as Project Manager of the Feasibility Study and the University of Sydney Business School, through Dr. Kristine Dery, agreed to assign five students from the Masters of Management/CEMS Program to the Project as part of the second semester Graduate Degree course. The study was kindly funded by Allan and Lyn's Dalara Foundation and over a period of three months, Nick and the Students (Kate Morison- Project Leader, Zhiwen (Alex) Wang, Rikki Lee Stewart, Justin Tsang and Shay Koren) produced a world class report, which concluded that there were no 'show-stoppers' in terms of proceeding.
The work done by these University of Sydney Business School Masters of Management students and superbly led by Nick Boyle, gave us the confidence to proceed.
In December 2013, The Australian Rhino Project was officially launched at a Breakfast at the Westin Hotel with the breakfast kindly supported by Julie McIntosh and Sarah Hoyland of The Classic Safari Company. It was attended by more than 150 committed, enthusiastic, passionate but concerned people. Adam Spencer facilitated a panel which comprised George Gregan AM, Cliff Rosenberg, CEO of Linkedin Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific and Matt Fuller, General Manager of Western Plains Zoo. They discussed the key issues and the critical need for a Project such as this.
The Breakfast provided the ideal springboard for the challenges that lie ahead.