In what was seen as a project with huge potential for success, six black rhino from South Africa found a new home in Chad in May 2018. There was buy-in from the Chadian government, expertise was shared, and everything was done to protect the rhino from poaching.
However, just five months after their release into Zakouma National Park, two were found dead. Then just over a week later, news of another two deaths surfaced. They were not poached.
A statement released by African Parks said post-mortem results ruled out infectious diseases and plant toxicity. Serological evidence indicated exposure to a blood-borne parasite transmitted by tsetse flies, but this was not suspected to have killed them. Low fat reserves suggest the rhino had not adapted to their new environment as well as initially thought, but further tests on the brain and spinal fluid may shed further light.
Authorities kept a close eye on the animals from their arrival. While in holding bomas, they were fed a mix of lucerne and branches. After two months, the rhino were released into a sanctuary within the greater national park, and finally late in September, into the greater park.
Zoukama receive summer rainfall and is located in prime black rhino territory in terms of vegetation. “Their external appearance did not show loss of condition,” says Fran Read from African Parks. “They were probably feeding on something that wasn’t giving them the nutrients they needed. This is why the testing is so important so we can understand what happened,” she explains.
The western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) became extinct in Chad in the 1970s as a result of poaching. The rhino subspecies from South Africa that was translocated is the south-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor). The only other subspecies is the eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) from the east of Africa and South-western rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis).
At the time of going to print, the last two remaining rhino were being recaptured and placed in holding facilities for closer management in order to safeguard the animals.
Written by René de Klerk
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