Even ‘extinct’ rhinos can be an airfreight success story
AIR CARGO has never been glamorous and will probably always remain the ugly sister of the airline passenger department, but this status cannot inhibit the global airfreight industry from playing its part in caring for the environment, despite its obvious energy-sapping criss-crossing of the world delivering consignments, writes Thelma Etim.
In May, Air Charter Service (ACS), one of the world’s leading aircraft charter specialists, illustrated airfreight’s potential conservation credentials by helping to successfully transport six wild, black rhinos to Zakouma National Park in Chad, in Central Africa, thereby helping to reintroduce the species to the country, some 50 years after they were wiped out by poachers.
Black Rhinos are classed as critically endangered. In the 1970-80s, large-scale poaching saw their population decline from about 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 – an horrific decline of 96 per cent over 20 years, reveals the charity Save The Rhino. “Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programmes across Africa, Black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals,” the charity stresses.
“Importantly, their geographic range has also increased, with successful reintroduction programmes repopulating areas that had previously seen their native black rhinos entirely poached out in the 1970s and 80s,” it adds.
Lyndee du Toit, managing director of ACS Africa, describes the air cargo operation: “The flight formed part of a project led by an unprecedented collaboration between the governments of South Africa and Chad, the conservation non-profit [charity] African Parks and South African National Parks (SANParks).
In all respects, the safety of the animals was of paramount importance. “African Parks, which manages Zakouma in partnership with the Chadian Government, had implemented extensive measures to practically eliminate poaching in the park and this has created a safe environment for the species to thrive now and into the future,” du Toit points out.
The air cargo mission meant that the rhinos were held temporarily in ‘bomas’ (enclosures) in South Africa, and were attended to by expert teams and given time to acclimatise to prepare them for the journey. “They were sedated for the flight and accompanied by support staff and vets and were closely monitored throughout the entire trip to Chad,” she reveals.
“Our part in this project was the culmination of two years’ extensive preparation from the various parties involved, to ensure the welfare of the animals during transit. The flight, on an Antonov 12 aircraft, left Port Elizabeth in South Africa and flew more than 3,000 miles to Zakouma’s Airfield in Chad. We had to factor-in stop-offs in Luanda for fuel and also N’Djamena for immigration purposes,” du Toit explains.
Peter Fearnhead, chief executive of African Parks, insists: “Through our partnership with the government of Chad we have been able to restore security to Zakouma, creating an opportunity to re-establish a Central African population of the species in a secure and functioning park. This reintroduction is an important contribution to the long-term conservation of rhinos in Africa, and also to the enrichment of Chad’s natural heritage.”
Du Toit concludes: “We are incredibly grateful to have been entrusted with such a poignant and important transportation, and we hear that the rhinos have settled in well in their new home.”