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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rare rhinos find new home

Rare rhinos find new home

  Independent Online, South Africa

June 15 2005 at 09:28AM

By Brett Meagre

Seconds after the last log was removed from the exit of Boma No3, two white rhinos lumbered out for their first taste of freedom at the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.

The rhinos, two of six now at Sanbona, showed no fear as they searched for food, noses to the ground. Four others were freed a month ago.

Sanbona, a 54 000 hectare game park 20km from Barrydale on the scenic Route 62, released the group's dominant pair on Tuesday morning with the hope that the bull and cow will establish their home quickly and will lead the other four rhinos to do the same.

The remaining two bulls and two cows will be released over the course of the next few days.

The Sanbona wildlife team has not named the rhinos and has no plans to do so.

While four of the six rhinos have had radio transmitters implanted in their horns, they are identified only by number.

"We're trying to get away from tame animals," Sanbona's ecologist and wildlife manager Ryno Erasmus said.

"If you give an animal a name, he's basically your pet."

The white rhino, a living fossil whose origins date from the Miocene era 24 million years ago, is in fact grey in colour.

Of the two rhino species in Africa, the wider-mouthed grazer gets its name from the Dutch word "weit", meaning "wide".

English translators, however, mistook "weit" to mean "white", and the name has stuck.

The white rhino is slightly larger than the black rhino, weighing in at just over two tons, and has a pronounced hump on its neck.

Sanbona released the rhinos during the winter for several reasons, said Erasmus.

"The drugs used to calm the animals inhibit their ability to regulate body temperature," he said. "If they're moved in the summer, they could overheat and die."

Another reason is that most animals are born in the spring, a time when both mother and child are under heavy stress. Wildlife experts warn that for a move to be successful, animals must be as calm as possible.

The wildlife team also released six buffalo on Tuesday.

The three bulls and three cows, aged about two years, playfully trotted out of their boma and immediately set to exploring their new surroundings.

The wildlife team is far more confident about them, as other herds of buffalo already live on the reserve and have proven to manage well. The rhinos, however, are an experiment.

"We have no real records to go by on what the balance was between species," Erasmus said.

"We're basically writing a blueprint for the area. Somebody has to start somewhere."

The rhinos were bought from a live Izemvelo KZN Wildlife auction in Hluhluwe/Umfolozi for an average of R107 000 each.

But Sanbona scored a bonus - following the purchase, the wildlife team was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of their new cows was 10 months pregnant.

As birthing rhinos often go into hiding and emerge days later with a calf in tow, wildlife experts can only sit back and wait until the baby is born in November.

"It's quite a good deal, really," said Erasmus, smiling.

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