An international conservation effort is returning a critically endangered sub-species of rhino to Africa. I’m no expert, but it’s a crap plan…
IT’S GREAT NEWS – or at least it is on the surface.
A critically endangered African rhino species is set to bounce back, after being all but wiped out by poachers more than a decade ago.
Five eastern black rhinos raised in European zoos were re-homed yesterday in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park – some four decades after their descendants made the reverse journey north.
And conservationists are confident that the new arrivals will thrive in their vast new home.
The programme has the support of a number of august organisations – including The Rwandan Government, The European Association of Zoos, and conservation group African Parks.
But I think it’s going to go tits-up.
Those behind the project say that it is the perfect opportunity to establish the rhinos in their ancestral homelands, and are taking pains to make the move a success.
After first getting to know one another at a Czech safari park, the animals each made the 3,700-mile, 30-hour, journey to Africa in a bespoke transport crate.
They will now live in a large, temporary enclosure until scientists decide that they are happy to be let loose into the 1,000-km square kilometre reserve.
After that, armed wardens and what the BBC calls “high-tech anti-poaching solutions” will be deployed to keep them safe, as the species was twice hunted to extinction within Akagera in the past.
But – naah. I’m still not feeling it.
I’m not being funny, but if you grew up somewhere like Chester Zoo – where the perks include your own private enclosure, reliable food deliveries, free health care and the odd kid dropping his ice cream at your feet – would you really want to up sticks?
I mean, you’re already doing your bit for eastern black rhino numbers just by existing, so you might be just a teensy bit dis-chuffed if you were sedated, dropped into a box and whisked off to the other side of your world without even a By-your-leave?
Presumably, after growing up in genteel Chester, at Flamingo Land in Yorkshire, and divers other European locations, you’ve also got used to a modicum of security.
The animals – let’s call them Rhino Neil and Rhino Kylie – have rarely experienced anything more threatening than a boisterous school visit, so being suddenly in the cross-hairs of poachers might be challenging.
Sure, there might be armed guards about – but being surrounded by rifle-toting ‘friends’ wearing Terminator shades and champing laconically on kgs of dried meat product would tend to put the shits up me rather than reassure. More like being in WitPro Plus than Paradise.
Everywhere I look, therefore, I see potential problems.
For example, you’re not going to like foraging for your own supper if you’re used to a kindly keeper fetching your dinner twice a day.
Unaccustomed to sharing the watering hole with anyone but your nearest and dearest for five or six generations, how would you feel if you had to shoulder a path through nasty hippopotami, crocodiles and common warthogs before you could get a wet?
Moreover, putting on sunscreen is always a pain, especially if there are kids involved – and the Euro-rhinos never had to bother much with the skin-cooling mud when they were summering at places like The Ree Park Safari in Jutland, Denmark.
Of course, it’s all very well blathering on about conservation, or a return to the ancestral homeland.
But you’re frankly going to be spending more of your time in Africa scratching your bum on a tree, trying to get rid of the suddenly abundant parasites, than thinking about such intangibles.
Above all, has anybody thought about how sweaty these poor creatures are going to be, having grown up in the temperate north?
Speaking as someone whose family hails from nearby Scotland, and who therefore finds it a trial to function above 18 degrees C, I fear for Neil and Kylie’s ability to cope with the 81F average summer day in Agakera.
They might start to wonder if it had all been a terrible mistake, and I can certainly imagine that some rather heated exchanges might result; e.g.:
NEIL: I’m hot! My arse is in ribbons, Kylie. Tell me why we’re here again?
KYLIE: We’re here because this is our ancestral homeland, Neil.
NEIL: How do you know that this is our ancestral homeland?
KYLIE: I don’t know, Neil. I’m putting my trust in the experts. They say that this place is the bollocks for eastern black rhinos. We’ve just got to get busy repopulating the sub-species.
NEIL: I can’t think of How’s Your Father when my backside’s like this…. Are they sure we’re eastern black rhinos? Me, I’m from The North West.
KYLIE: Like I said, they’re experts, Neil. Of course we’re eastern black rhinos.
NEIL: Well, I don’t feel like an eastern black rhino. Maybe I’m a Cheshire black rhino, or another species altogether. One they haven’t discovered yet, but originating from the CH postcode area.
KYLIE: You’ve got a horned snout, and thick skin! What else could you be but a rhino?
NEIL: Maybe I’m a weird-looking hippopotamus. Maybe I’ve just got warts. Big warts.
KYLIE: Neil, are you all right, love? Why can’t you get your head around it? Of course you’re a rhino. Of course you’re meant to be here.
NEIL: I’m just not feeling it. This whole back to Africa thing…
KYLIE: Don’t you see? Our old lives in Europe were unnatural. An abomination! Here, we can be free and truly us! Proper eastern black rhinos!
NEIL: But I’m not an eastern black rhino!
KYLIE: All right! How do you know? Why are you so sure you’re not an eastern black rhino?
NEIL: Why am I sure? Because I’m fucking melting….