Rhinos Return to ‘The Place of the Elephant’ After 30 Years

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Zimbabwe plans to bring back rhinos to its second-largest national park, Gonarezhou, for the first time since they were wiped out by poachers in 1991.

At that time the total number of rhinos in the country fell to just 100 due to poaching and has now increased to 1,000, according to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

Gonarezhou, which means ‘place of the elephant’ in the Shona language, lies on Zimbabwe’s southern border and forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park that links Gonarezhou with the Kruger National Park in South Africa and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. At 35,000 square kilometers (13,524 square miles), it forms one of Africa’s great wilderness areas and is larger than the U.S. state of Maryland.

Now “we have very good numbers of rhino,” said Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe Parks, on Wednesday. Farawo said the reintroduction of both black and white rhinos, the two species found in Africa, would have happened last year if it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic.

While Zimbabwe has the world’s fourth-largest population of rhinos, neighboring South Africa houses the bulk of the world’s population of the animals. They are targeted by poachers for their horns, which are ground up into powder and are believed to have medicinal properties in east Asia.

Between 20 and 30 rhinos from two privately held conservancies will be trans-located to the park with the first animals arriving within two weeks, Mangaliso Ndlovu, the country’s environment minister, said in an interview.

Farawo declined to say how many rhinos would be reintroduced or where they would come from. Many parks in neighboring South Africa won’t disclose their rhino numbers for fear it may attract poachers.

“In 1991, poachers savagely wiped out the rhino population in Gonarezhou,” Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Twitter. “Today, Zimbabwe is reintroducing black and white rhinos to the region. Truly a momentous conservation achievement.”

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