Four Czech white Rhinos arrive in Kenya

December 21, 2009 12:00 am

, OL PEJETA RESERVE, Dec 21 – Four Northern White rhinos arrived at a Kenyan reserve on Sunday as part of a last-ditch bid to save the species from extinction.

The animals, two males and two females, arrived at the Ol Pejeta reserve in central Kenya after having travelled more than 7,000 kilometres (4,300 miles) from the Czech zoo that donated them — a 24-hour journey.

The first animal, a 21-year-old female called Najin, emerged from her well-ventilated wooden container as her Czech handler from the Dvur Kralove zoo coaxed her along, saying "don\’t be frightened" over and over again in Czech.

The handler travelled from Nairobi to the reserve perched on one of the containers to maintain contact with the endangered animals.

"They were quiet during the trip and they slept most of the time," Dana Holeckova, director of the Dvur Kralove zoo told AFP at the reserve.

"I feel so happy. It\’s my birthday today and this is like a gift to Africa. There is a 90 percent chance they will reproduce and I hope that we will start a new group of Northern White rhinos in Africa," she said.

"We have sent you the diamonds of our zoo, the last fertile Northern White rhinos kept in captivity. They are beautiful animals, they love people, they care about people. Please care about the rhinos, don t give them to poachers," Holeckova appealed.

By late afternoon all four animals had ventured out of their containers into their enclosure in the middle of the savannah.

The rhinos were given tranquilizers for the trip, with a higher dose for the males. They were first flown into Nairobi then transferred by lorries to the Ol Pejeta reserve.

Their horns were cut to make them less attractive to poachers and also so they could fit into their travelling containers.

Czech officials at the Dvur Kralove zoo agreed to send four of their six Northern White rhinos, even though the project generated controversy there — with opponents of the transfer arguing the animals might not survive the trip.

They feared they would have difficulty adapting to a sudden, massive change in temperature.

Only eight Northern White rhinos — whose Latin name is Ceratotherium simum cottoni, a sub-species of the White Rhino — are known to survive worldwide, all of them in captivity.

As well as the two still at Dvur Kralove, a vast facility that specialises in African fauna, two live at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego, California.

The Czech rhinos, however, are the only ones who have managed to reproduce, with the last birth in 2000, a female named Fatu whom the zoo dubbed its "millennium child".

The zoo is hoping that hormone levels of the female rhinos will get back to normal in Africa, thus improving chances for breeding.

"I hope than by inducing a positive climate change these animals will be able to breed and sustain this species of rhino in Kenya," said Kenyan Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa, also in attendance.

The minister reiterated that the ban on trade in rhino horn, prized as an aphrodisiac in parts of Asia, and in elephant ivory must be confirmed at the international conference on endangered wildlife to take place in Doha in March of next year.

Black rhinos have also been decimated by poachers. Kenya counted some 20,000 Black rhinos in 1973 but their population has now shrunk to just 609, the minister said.

The Ol Pejeta reserve, managed by several wildlife protection associations including Britain\’s Fauna and Flora International and Arcus Foundation of the US, was chosen to welcome the rhinos as it is one of the best protected reserves in the country, he said.


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