Could Bringing Rhinos to Texas Save Them from Extinction?


Story at-a-glance -

  • Animal welfare groups from the US and Africa are trying to arrange for hundreds of orphaned baby southern white rhinos to be brought to Texas
  • In South Africa, the animals are being hunted to near extinction by poachers, who kill them for their horns
  • The project could cost tens of millions of dollars, and transporting the young animals overseas could be risky to their health, but if the effort works it could protect rhinos from what might be certain extinction

By Dr. Becker

Rhinoceroses once roamed most of sub-Saharan Africa. Today, sadly, their numbers have dwindled as they succumb to poachers who hunt them for one of their most striking features, their horns.

“An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 black rhinos and 20,000 white rhinos remain in Africa, with another one killed by poachers every seven and a half hours. Their horns are hacked off and sold in China and Vietnam on the black market for medical treatments that western scientists say don't work,” National Geographic reported.1

Over 80 percent of Africa’s rhino population resides in South Africa, where poachings have hit record numbers despitethe presence of soldiers assigned to guard their safety. South Africa’s Environmental Ministry reported that 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014, which is up from a total of 13 in 2007 and over 1,000 in 2013.

In January, about 100 rhinos were moved from South Africa to neighboring states for increased protection, including Botswana where poachers may be shot on sight.2 Another 200 rhinos are expected to be moved this year to areas where poachers pose less of a threat.

Are Rhinos Coming to Texas?

If rhinos can be relocated to other areas in Africa, why not to Texas, where the climate is similar to their native locale? Such is the ambitious plan of animal welfare groups from the US and Africa, who are trying to arrange for hundreds of orphaned baby southern white rhinos to be brought to Texas.

In Texas, the rhinos’ DNA would be stored in a database and their horns would be equipped with microchips. The animals would be kept under tight surveillance on 100,000 acre-plus ranches, many of which would use helicopters to enhance security of the animals.3

What does a project of this magnitude cost? It could be tens of millions, and the money isn’t coming from taxpayers but solely from private donations. Aside from the costs, there’s also the issue of gaining approval from South Africa to export the animals, along with health and safety issues. As Reuters reported:4

“The challenges are formidable. Most of the rhinos would be under three years old and younger animals would have to be fed milk by bottle. They are typically darted in South Africa, and would then be transported by truck and shipped as air cargo.

Rhinos are not the best of travelers. Their health could be put in jeopardy by a long trip and airplanes can only move a handful at a time… If things go well in Texas and South Africa can put a lid on poaching, the Lone Star-raised rhinos could eventually be returned to Africa.”

Sadly, the western black rhinoceros was recently declared extinct, but there’s still hope for the black and white rhinos residing in South Africa. Project 1,000, as it’s being referred to, is still in its early stages but could potentially save the rhinos from “certain annihilation” in Africa.

The Second Ark Foundation, which is based in Texas, is working on the logistics to make the project a reality. The organization has already helped to preserve the African addax and the scimitar-horned Oryx, and part of their mission is to eventually reintroduce endangered species to their countries of origin.

If Poaching Continues, Rhinos Could Be Extinct by 2026

According to the organization Save the Rhino, if poaching continues to increase at the current rate, rhinos could be extinct by 2026.5 I had the honor of working with endangered black rhinos early in my career, so they hold a special place in my heart.

If you'd like to learn more about rhinoceros conservation efforts and what you can do to help, visit the Save the Rhino Get Involved page. You might also consider a donation, either to Save the Rhino or to the Second Ark Foundation’s Project 1,000 to bring endangered rhinos to Texas.