Namibia Starts Relocating Rhinos to Fight Rising Poaching Threat

Namibia, home to one of the world’s largest populations of black rhinos, has started relocating the animals from poaching hot spots to privately-owned farms as it battles escalating poaching of the endangered pachyderms.

Relocated rhinos are being placed in the care of private commercial farmers while remaining the property of the state, Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta said by phone from the capital, Windhoek, on Friday. The government is spreading rhinos around the southern African nation, placing them with farmers who are better able to protect them, as it struggles to defend the animals from poachers who want to remove their horns.

The arid country’s rhino population is under threat from poachers who kill the animals for their horns, to be used chiefly in traditional Asian medicines, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. About 1,750 black rhinos live in Namibia, out of a global population of 4,800, along with 469 white rhinos, according to Save the Rhino and the WWF.

Applications by farmers in Namibia are considered based on security of the area, grazing and other environmental factors before relocation. “We have to be satisfied before we translocate,” Shifeta said.

Poachers killed 23 rhinos last year in Namibia’s remote north-eastern Kunene region and Etosha National Park, a prime tourist attraction. About 76 elephants were also killed by poachers last year, Romeo Muyunda, a ministry official, said on Jan. 16.

Record Poaching

The number of rhinos moved so far and their new locations couldn’t be disclosed because of “security reasons,” Shifeta said. A dehorning exercise, which started last year, is also continuing, he said.

Namibia’s planned 400-member strong anti-poaching unit will be ready once it secures funding from the government, Shifeta said. A plan to use drones to improve surveillance in poorly policed and remote parks and conservancies, will be implemented once legal issues have been resolved.

Neighboring South Africa, home to more than 90 percent of the world’s white rhinos, said yesterday that poachers killed a record 1,215 rhinos last year, up from 1,004 in 2013. White rhinos, the bigger of the two types of the animal found in Africa, can weigh more than 2 metric tons.

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