Rhino released in Feb 2024 – by Margaret Southern / Courtesy San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

The Kenya Wildlife Service celebrated the successful transfer of 21 eastern black rhinos to establish a new viable breeding population for the species that was on the brink of extinction decades ago.

In an 18-day exercise executed by highly trained capture and veterinary experts, the Loisaba Conservancy received the 21 rhinos from three different locations, becoming the 17th sanctuary in Kenya where the mammoth animals can roam and intermingle.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be part of the resettlement of rhinos to a landscape where they’ve been absent for 50 years,” said Tom Silvester, CEO of Loisaba Conservancy.

Kenya had 20,000 black rhinos in the 1970s before poachers decimated them for their horns. By the time the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was established in 1989, rhino numbers had declined to below 400.

Since then, Kenya’s eastern black rhinos have made a remarkable comeback and today there are an estimated 1,004 individuals.

Kenya is a stronghold of the eastern sub species of black rhino, hosting approximately 80 percent of the entire world’s surviving population.

“Surpassing the milestone of 1,000 rhinos within four decades is a significant accomplishment,” said Munira Bashir, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Kenya.

The reintroduction this month of these 21 animals this month is a great milestone in Kenya’s rhino recovery action plan, and was made possible by support from The Nature Conservancy, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, other partners—and the three reserves from where the 21 rhinos originated, Nairobi National Park, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Lewa Conservancy.

A well-trained crew had just sprung into action to revive a rhino after it stopped breathing—then quickly moved out of the way when the animal sprang back up (and no one was hurt) – Photo by Ami Vitale / Courtesy The Nature Conservancy

“In the recent past, one of the main causes of mortality of rhinos has been territorial fights due to limited space in sanctuaries which has also led to suppressed growth rates due,” explained Dr. Erustus Kanga, the Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service. “I am elated to be associated with this momentous effort to secure more space for this cornerstone species.”

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Meanwhile, southern white rhinos continue to thrive in Kenya, having increased from 50 individuals that were imported from South Africa in the eighties and nineties to reach the current population of 971 individuals.

Kenya is also playing a critical role in efforts to save the northern white rhino from extinction, as it is host to the only remaining two females of the species left in the world. The international BioRescue project has developed thirty embryos awaiting implantation into surrogate females within the closely-related subspecies of southern white rhino.

“The return of black rhinos to Loisaba, 50 years after the last known individual here was killed by poachers in the 1970s, is a demonstration of how impactful partnerships between governments and conservation NGOs can be for restoring, managing, and protecting our natural world,” said Dr. Max Graham, CEO and Founder of Space for Giants, one of the project partners.

ALSO: Zero Rhinos Poached in Kenya 3 Years Ago – Better Policing is One of the Keys

“And, of course, the return of black rhinos here gives all of us one of the most precious commodities of all: hope.”

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