Twelve of a group of 100 white rhinos have left South Africa on a plane to Botswana to protect them from poachers. A spokesman for the Rhinos Without Borders group said the animals coped well with their 15-hour trip.
The rhinos made their trip by truck, plane and helicopter from a game park on South Africa\'s east coast to Botswana\'s Okavango Delta, a wildlife expert told the German news agency dpa on Sunday. The animals were first sedated so they could be moved to the truck by the \"Rhinos without Borders\" conservation team. Upon arrival in Botswana, they are being kept in quarantine for 30 days before being freed.
The 12 white rhinos, which were relocated last week, are part of a larger group of 100 of the animals that are being moved from South Africa due to the high risk of poaching. A first batch of 25 rhinos was transferred several months ago. It\'s hoped that both the white and black rhinos will breed more easily and save themselves from extinction in Botswana, where about 70 percent of the country is national park land.
\"The animals\' arrival in Botswana has been incredibly emotional. Seeing them feeding noisily as they walk away has sent my heart singing,\" project manager Les Carlisle told dpa. He described the relocation as a chance to create a \"genetic insurance\" against extinction.
The Rhinos without Borders team now hope to expand the resettlement project to other southern African countries. An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 rhinos still live in the wild in Africa, with the large majority living in South Africa.
Poachers illegally killed more than 1,000 rhinos - almost three per day - in South Africa last year, according to the Environment Ministry. But Botswana has one of the lowest poaching rates in Africa, in part thanks to the country introducing an official anti-poaching unit.
White rhinos are the largest of five species of rhinoceros that are often poached for their horn, which is highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed to have aphrodisiac and healing powers.
Trading rhino horn has been globally prohibited for the past four decades. But the black market trade continues to flourish with customers reportedly paying about $65,000 (61,000 euros) per kilogram - more than the price of gold or cocaine.
Conservationists have tried different tactics to reduce poaching. Last month, a zoo in the Czech Republic said it would saw off the horns from its herd of rare rhinos after a brutal attack on a white rhino at a French zoo.
The Rhinos without Borders group estimates that it costs $45,000 to relocate a single rhino, which includes support for rhino monitoring teams and anti-poaching patrols when they reach their new home.