South Africa Parks Rhino Sale Near Completion as Poaching Rises

South Africa National Parks says its plan to sell and relocate 286 white rhinos is almost complete as it seeks to save the animals from poachers.

The rhinos will be moved to private properties with their suitability for keeping the endangered animals in an “advanced stage” of assessment, Kuseni Dlamini, outgoing chairman of the SANParks board, said Wednesday at a press conference in Pretoria, the capital.

The translocation program was started last year to move the animals out of poaching hotspots in Kruger National Park, which is about the size of Israel and borders Mozambique, where many of the poachers come from. Poachers killed a record 1,217 rhinos in South Africa last year, including more than 800 in Kruger, up from a total of 1,004 in 2013. The country has a population of about 20,000 rhinos.

“The war against poaching is top on the list” of priorities for SANParks, Dlamini said. “We’ve seen an escalation.”

About 32 million rand ($2.7 million) of land has also been purchased as part of the creation of rhino “strongholds” where rhinos will be kept to allow the population to grow, according to SANParks.

A company associated with South African billionaire Christo Wiese, who has a net worth of $5.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, was among buyers refunded 14 million rand in deposits last year. The contracts to buy the animals from SANParks were found to be incorrectly authorized.

Dlamini said a team including KPMG LLP, the National Treasury and top scientists are assessing “the different properties that are owned by our prospective buyers” for the sale underway.

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