Blog Post: Monumental Translocation and Rewilding of 40 Southern White Rhino

Through incredible teamwork under challenging conditions, the  Munywana Conservancy in South Africa received a donation of 40 southern white rhino to bolster their current rhino population; the first translocation of many under ‘Rhino Rewild’, an initiative to rewild 2,000 southern white rhino over the next decade. 

As the sun rose, the air buzzed with anticipation. The operation was a collaboration of  world-class teams; the most experienced and passionate people in the world, from renowned conservationists, veterinarians, helicopter pilots, biologists, logistical expert, and photographers- all supported by enthusiastic staff from those who helped drive the vehicles, operate the massive cranes, and provide us with much needed food and water throughout the hot day. We all gathered for a momentous day with one goal in mind, safely capture and move 40 rhinos.

“We are very privileged to be here, this is one of the largest rhino translocations ever done, and it is also a momentous occasion because these rhinos are being donated to the Munywana Conservancy (The Munywana Conservancy is a collaboration of community and private landowners that include the Makhasa Community Trust, the Mnqobokazi Community Trust, &Beyond Phinda and ZUKA Private Game Reserves). I would like to thank all of our partners, starting with the Wildlife Emergency Fund, with Beverly Holden and Max Baxton for the funds to make this possible, The Aspinall Foundation, WeWild Africa, &Beyond for accepting these rhinos at Munywana, and obviously African Parks and Conservation Solutions as our long-term partners to really make this project work. We are just very thankful that it has gone so well,” said Dereck Milburn, managing director of WeWild Africa.

The first phase involved helicopter darting—a precise and carefully coordinated effort to sedate the rhinos from the air. The helicopter weaved through the sky, its pilot expertly navigating above as Joel Alves, renowned veterinary expert and helicopter sharpshooter prepared his tranquilizers. Each shot was critical, and the team needed to work swifty to ensure that the rhino both did not run too far, had the exact correct dosage, and landed in a place where the terrestrial capture teams could easily get to him and walk him to the crate. 

Joel Alves, explained “We are in charge of the animal welfare as much as possible, controlling the drug dosages for darting out in the field, then getting them safely into the crates, and managing their welfare in the crates. This really comes down to good tranquilization, ensuring that we have healthy animals, and that we have drugs on hand if needed, in case they become a bit lively in the crates.”

Once darted, the four ground teams sprang into action- everyone communicating with radios simultaneously to ensure maximal efficiency.  The clock was ticking to safely collar, take measurements, gather vital data, and treat any other issues before the rhino was given a reversal drug to awaken it just enough for the teams to be able to walk, or sometimes run, the rhinos to the specially designed and built crates. The teams pushed, pulled, and held the rhinos up with sheer strength while walking to their crates, all while making sure the over two-ton rhino did not accidentally step on anyone’s toes as everyone thrashed through the long savannah. 

At the crates, another team was poised and ready to guide the rhinos inside. Once secured, each crate was carefully lifted by a crane onto the loading trucks. Throughout this process, veterinarians continuously monitored the rhinos’ vitals to ensure their well-being.

The team bonded like a family, united by a single goal- driven with determination and positivity. By dusk, as the last crates were loaded, the team, both exhausted and exhilarated, watched the convoy of trucks and security personnel begin the 12-hour journey to Munywana Conservancy. As the trucks disappeared into the night, there was a profound sense of accomplishment. It was clear what can be achieved when passion, experience, and teamwork converge in the service of  wildlife.

“This inaugural translocation of 40 rhinos is yet another example of how WeWild Africa is making a tangible difference in conservation in South Africa” said Damian Aspinall, Chairman of WeWild Africa.

After the end of the first long day, Dereck Milburn, managing director of WeWild Africa recapped the day, “Firstly, it has been such a privilege to be here and experience such a mammoth undertaking in conservation in Southern Africa, on the continent, and in the world. It is not everyday that you first see so many rhinos in a single place, and then get to work with so many rhinos. The teams worked really well today, the rhinos are all safe, we had four teams running today, and it has just been a fantastic experience to be here as part of the team. We have many thousands of rhinos to move, and we are not stopping here, this is just the beginning.

As WeWild Africa and the Aspinall Foundation, we are strong advocates of the rewilding of captive animals, and although these animals are on a fairly large space, they are definitely considered captive animals – it is 7,000 hectares for 2,000 rhinos. We need to move these animals to open spaces, to bigger spaces where they can make a real contribution to conservation. We really support African Parks in this mission, we would like to congratulate and thank Conservation Solutions for their contribution of their equipment and the expertise that they bring, as always they are a very professional team, and to our funders and supporters, Beverly Holden, Max Baxton, The Wildlife Emergency Fund, thank you for your contribution to make all this work happen, we could definitely not do this without you, the Aspinall Foundation, our funders at the Aspinall Foundation, thank you for what you do for conservation. 

This partnership is a very unique partnership between WeWild Africa, African Parks, and Conservation Solutions, and this is going to be one of many translocations of this nature that we are undertaking going forward. We have already identified more reserves that we will be taking more rhinos to, and safe reserves, safe reserves that can take more rhinos. And South Africa needs to pull together to help African Parks achieve this objective of rewilding these rhinos. It is not just their problem, it is a global interest, and it is a heritage that we all need to celebrate and protect: it costs us a lot of money to move a single rhino, never mind 40 of them.”

  The rhinos are released through a phased environmental acclimatisation approach into the conservancy. In line with our stringent security protocols, these rhinos will undergo constant monitoring. In addition, we conduct assessments of their body condition and adaptation to local parasites, as well as overall safety checks to ensure their successful acclimatization to the new habitat.

This first translocation was funded and carried out by the The Aspinall Foundation, WeWild Africa, African Parks, The Wildlife Emergency Fund, Conservation Solutions, and &Beyond Phinda. 

About The Aspinall Foundation

The Aspinall Foundation is a renowned wildlife conservation charity dedicated to protecting endangered species and their habitats. With a focus on innovative and sustainable conservation methods, the Foundation actively engages in breeding, rehabilitation, and reintroduction programs for various species, including gorillas, rhinos, and cheetahs with an extensive network of resources. Their work extends beyond traditional conservation, advocating for the transformation of conventional zoos into expansive, natural habitats for captive animals.  For more information visit: www.aspinallfoundation.org, Instagram, Facebook, X, and Youtube

About WeWild Africa

WeWild Africa was founded in 2019 by veteran conservation experts with 100+ years collective experience in wildlife conservation in Africa. WeWild Africa We have worked in some of the most challenging places and situations in the world, with a never-give-up mindset. Through partnerships with key stakeholders and committed organizations and reserves, WeWild Africa is able to make decisions quickly and provide seemingly impossible solutions. Since 2019 the organization has directly impacted over 1000900 animals through rescue or rewilding. For more information visit: www.wewildafrica.com, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, X, and Youtube

 

About The Wildlife Emergency Fund

The Wildlife Emergency Fund (WEF) is dedicated to providing an Emergency Response Service for at-risk wildlife across South Africa and ultimately the entire continent. By channeling public funds directly to urgent wildlife emergencies and maintaining a robust “War Chest,” we ensure immediate, unimpeded assistance. Our extensive network of industry-expert agents allows us to deliver the highest standard of emergency care, speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. WEF operates under the conviction that conservation is a public interest and responsibility, essential for sustaining wildlife during their most critical times.  For more information visit: www.wef.ngo, Instagram, and Facebook.

About Conservation Solutions 

Conservation Solutions specializes in large-scale wildlife capture, translocation, and restocking projects across Africa. With a proven track record of managing some of the continent’s largest and most complex wildlife relocations, their efforts often span international boundaries as part of broader continental conservation initiatives. Witnessing the loss of a species is heart-breaking, but there is nothing quite as hopeful as seeing its return. For more information visit  https://www.conservationsolutions.co.za/, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube.

About The Munywana Conservancy 

The Munywana Conservancy, a collaboration of private and community landowners, is a protected wildlife conservation area spanning 29,866 hectares (73,800 acres). The conservancy has a proud history of successful conservation endeavours and groundbreaking research which have been instrumental to the protection of threatened species including rhino, cheetah, pangolin, lion and elephant. Wildlife translocations of rhino and cheetah from the Munywana Conservancy continue to support new source populations of rhino and cheetah. For more information visit: https://www.andbeyond.com/impact/history/our-phinda-story/

About African Parks 

African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on the responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of protected areas, in partnership with governments and local communities. African Parks manages 22 national parks and protected areas in 12 countries covering over 20 million hectares in Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. African Parks acquired the world’s largest captive rhino breeding facility of 2,000 rhinos in September 2023 with the aim to help establish or supplement strategic populations, in order to help de-risk the future of the species. For more information visit www.africanparks.org, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

About Rhino Rewild

Rhino Rewild, an African Parks initiative, is a 10-year plan to rescue and rewild 2,000 Southern white rhino and renew the habitats they require. In September 2023, African Parks purchased the world’s largest rhino captive breeding operation in South Africa, in a bid to rescue these rhinos, which amount to 15% of the world’s population, and to rewild them to safe and well-managed protected areas across Africa as part of a strategic, continent-wide conservation strategy. For more information visit www.rhinorewild.org 

About the Southern White Rhino

The Southern White Rhino is under extreme threat from poaching and habitat loss, necessitating well-protected areas for their survival. From a critical low of 30 to 40 animals in the 1930s, conservation efforts boosted their numbers to around 20,000 by 2012. However, intense poaching for their horns has since reduced their population to below 13,000. As mega herbivores, white rhinos play a crucial role in shaping savannas, which store 30% of the world’s terrestrial carbon.

 

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The work carried out by WeWild Africa is only possible with the support of individual donors like yourself. You can join us and help us to rescue wildlife, rewild animals, and restore landscapes. 

 

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