Nairobi, June 20 – Five critically endangered black rhinos, born and bred in Europe, will be flown from Czech Republic to Akagera National Park in Rwanda on June 23 in the largest ever translocation of rhinos from Europe to Africa.

This historic journey will begin at Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Czech Republic, where all five animals have been gathered since November 2018. The eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli), who were born and raised in zoo environments, will ultimately be released into their new and wild home in Akagera.

The translocation is a collaboration between the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the Government of Rwanda and conservation NGO African Parks, the partners said.

While their flight will depart on Sunday, June 23rd, their journey began years ago with EAZA helping to supplement wild populations in secure parks in Africa with genetically-robust individuals who have been successfully bred and cared for over the years by the EAZA Ex-Situ Programme (EEP). Fewer than 5,000 wild black rhinos and only 1,000 eastern black rhinos remain in Africa. Their future is severely threatened by rampant poaching to feed the illegal demand for their horns.

According to the partners, the translocation project represents an urgent and valuable opportunity to expand the range and protection of the black rhino, and demonstrate how captive rhinos can help supplement and repopulate wild populations within secure landscapes.

“Large scale cooperation between EAZA zoos has resulted in a healthy, sustainable population of Eastern Black Rhino. This means we can now take a major step towards protecting the future of the species in the wild,” said Mark Pilgrim, Programme Coordinator for black rhino at the EAZA and CEO of Chester Zoo in the UK.

The three female and two male black rhinos, aged between two and nine years, were chosen from the EAZA EEP project. Jasiri, Jasmina and Manny were born in Safari Park Dvůr Králové (Czech Republic); Olmoti comes from Flamingo Land (United Kingdom) and Mandela is from Ree Park Safari (Denmark).  The patron of the transportation is model and conservation advocate Veronika Varekova who assisted with transportation costs for the project. The rhinos are being donated to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the governmental body that in partnership with African Parks manages Akagera National Park.

All five rhinos have undergone months of sensitisation to prepare them and minimise stress to ensure the safest journey possible, which will last approximately 30 hours. During the voyage, they will be inside custom-made crates, and fed and watered regularly. Experienced zookeepers from the Safari Park Dvůr Králové as well as veterinarian Pete Morkel, a world expert in rhino translocations, will accompany and monitor the rhinos throughout the entire trip, as well as their release into the Park.

“By undertaking a highly supervised and well-planned gradual acclimation process, we believe these rhinos will adapt well to their new environment in Rwanda. They will first be kept in bomas – enclosures made by wooden poles. Later, they will enjoy larger enclosures in a specially protected area. The final step will be to release them into the northern part of the national park where they will roam free,“ said Přemysl Rabas, Director of Safari Park Dvůr Králové.

Akagera National Park is an ideal destination for the reintroduction of the animals. In 2017, RDB and African Parks successfully reintroduced 18 rhinos to the Park with support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Since 2010, the Park has undergone a revival with poaching practically eliminated, allowing key species to be reintroduced, including lions in 2015, which have since tripled in number, and rhinos in 2017 — a decade after they were last seen in the country.

Strong community conservation efforts have resulted in tremendous support for the Park, and tourism is now leading to Akagera being 80 per cent self-financing, generating $2 million a year, which goes back to the Park and surrounding communities.