The Australian Rhino Project announced its aim to bring 80 black rhinos and white rhinos to Australia’s Monarto and Taronga Zoos over four years, to ensure their survival before eventually reintroducing the animals to Africa.

However, Australian Rhino Project Board chairman Allan Davies said the biggest hurdle had been ensuring compliance with the biosecurity requirements because South Africa does not have approved arrangements to export rhinos to Australia.

“The Australian Rhino Project fully supports and respects these vital quarantine regulations,” he said.

“Due to the biosecurity challenges it could have taken years to bring rhino direct from South Africa, time we all agree the species does not have.”

The project and its zoological partners Zoos SA and Taronga Zoo, will now look for a suitable third country and international zoo for the rhinos to undertake a period of quarantine — an interim step in the relocation process.

“This is a standard process for many animal importations into Australia and a step that we will now need to take,” Mr Davies said.

A Federal Government Agriculture Department spokesman said because zoo animals were only imported occasionally they were dealt with on an individual basis.

“Diseases exotic to Australia exist in South Africa, such as rift valley fever and surra that need to be appropriately managed,” he said.

“Importing indirectly via an approved third country will require rhinos to spend 12 months in an approved wildlife facility in that country and meet Australia’s import conditions before being exported to Australia.”

The relocation of rhinos via a third country did pose doubts about Australia’s viability to host an insurance population.

But Mr Davies and his team saw the importance of continuing the project’s vision, and maintaining the genetic diversity of the rhinos that reside and breed in Australia.

He also commended Zoos SA’s progress to fence, and later build a suitable facility for rhinos on its 500ha open plain area, named ‘wild Africa’.

Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Benstead said the use of a third country could bring an insurance population of rhinos to Monarto faster.

“It has its logistical challenges but it’s probably going to result in the rhinos quicker than if we were going straight from South Africa,” she said.

“Our aim has always been to get rhinos here to join our breeding group as quickly as we can.”

The zoo held a gala fundraiser for the rhinos in January where it raised about $100,000 for a quarantine centre.

The centre will ensure up to 10 rhinos — held inside with access to an outdoor area — do not bring disease to Monarto’s existing animals.

“We’ll start that building work this financial year,” she said.

“We’re going to be ready for them, as soon as they arrive.

Under the initial proposal’s first rhino intake, six rhinos were to be flown from South Africa to Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, NSW to be quarantined, with three rhinos to be transferred to Monarto.

 

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