african rhinos

The first of up to 80 rhinoceros are on track to come to Australia this year as part of a world-first plan to ensure their survival.

The Australian Rhino Project plans to relocate 80 rhino from South Africa to safari parks in Australia.

Project founder Ray Dearlove said it was a biological insurance policy.

"The situation is dire, there's an urgency," he told 666 ABC Canberra Drive.

"If you're killing three [rhino] a day, doesn't matter what number you start with, it really is a numbers game." More than 5,000 rhino have been killed for their horns since 2010, with a record 1,400 killed last year and 1,200 in 2014.

rhino calf

More rhino are now killed than born each year. (Shannon Wild)

The gestation period for a rhinoceros is 16 months and they only produce one calf.

Mr Dearlove said more rhinos were now killed each year than were born, and extinction was a real possibility.

"The numbers are deteriorating fast," he said.

"I thought Australia is one of the safest places on the planet to start this breeding herd, with the eventual intention that they would be repatriated to Africa when those [poaching] issues are sorted out."


Lengthy time in quarantine

Although biosecurity arrangements are still being finalised, both the South African and Australian governments support the project.

The first six white rhino are set to go into two months of quarantine in Johannesburg in May.

They will then be flown to Australia in August, where they will go into quarantine at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo for another two months.

From there, the rhinos will most likely go to Monarto Zoo's safari park near Adelaide.

All going well, Mr Dearlove hopes to bring 80 rhino to Australia over four years.

"There is no safe place in Africa for rhinos today," he said.

"They've become extinct pretty much from the top down to South Africa where probably 85 to 90 per cent of the white and black southern rhinos that are left in the world."


Poachers killing on a daily basis

Mr Dearlove said poachers operating out of Mozambique were killing three rhinos per day.

"They cross the border, one with a big gun, one with an axe, machete or a saw to cut the horn off, and another fellow to carry the supplies," he said.

"They will run/walk 15 kilometres to where they've got a tip-off, find a group of rhinos, shoot probably the biggest one ... and then dash across the border.

"The horn itself will change hands probably six times before it gets on a boat and heads to Asia."

white rhino

Rhino horn can fetch $80,000 per kilogram. (Peter van Wyk)

Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails.

But the horn can fetch up to $500,000 in Vietnam and China, where some people believe it can help heal ailments ranging from the common cold to cancer.

"Poachers can get up to $80,000 a kilogram for a rhino horn," Mr Dearlove said.

"So an average-sized rhino would have a horn of five kilograms ... so there's $400,000 to $500,000 on the table.

"It's the same syndicates that move people around, move drugs around, move weapons around ... and the return and investment for [rhino horn] is staggering."

young rhino

Ray Dearlove hopes the project will protect rhino from extinction. (Julia Salnicki)

It will cost about $75,000 to transport and quarantine each rhino headed to Australia.

Mr Dearlove acknowledged it was a huge logistical exercise but he said it was worth the investment.

"If you or I don't do anything about it, who's going to do something about it?" he said.

"And when they're gone, who will they blame?"


Originally published by ABC News

Article by Penny Travers and Adam Shirley

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