By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO – In the Texas grassland, home to white-tailed deer and rattlesnakes, outdoorsman Charly Seale sees a vast sanctuary of open spaces that could be used to protect the wild African rhino from its biggest enemy – poachers in search of the animals’ valuable horns.
Seale is part of an ambitious project organized by animal welfare groups in the United States and African countries to bring hundreds of orphaned baby southern white rhinos to the south Texas grasslands, whose climate and geography are similar to their native South African veld.
That is if governments will let them and the Texans can afford a transportation bill that could run tens of millions of dollars, all paid for by private donations.
“This is not for the faint of heart or for the faint of checkbook,” said Seale, head of the Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association’s Second Ark Foundation, pointing out no public money will be sought for the effort, which is still in its early stages.
Rhino poaching hit a record in South Africa last year, home to almost all the rhinos in Africa, with 1,215 killed in 2014, according to South Africa’s Environment Ministry.
International crime syndicates are after rhino horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine and sell at prices higher than gold to the newly affluent in places such as Vietnam, where a belief, with no scientific basis, exists that they can cure cancer.
In January, South Africa said it had moved about 100 rhinos to neighboring states to combat poaching. In 2015, another 200 rhinos will be moved to what Environment Minister Edna Molewa said are “strongholds” where the animals will be safer from poaching. [ID:nL6N0V122X]
Some have ended up in Botswana, a country that allows the shooting of poachers on sight.