South Africa’s Kruger National Park will evacuate hundreds of rhinos to save them from poachers.
The move, which is part of a plan to curb illegal hunts for rhino horn, was announced by the environment minister.
Kruger National Park authorities said they could relocate up to 500 rhinos, which can each weigh more than a tonne.
South Africa is home to more than 80% of Africa’s rhinos. Illegal poaching has risen sharply from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013.
Environment Minister Edna Molewa said the relocations from the Kruger National Park, coupled with the creation of “rhino strongholds”, could “allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow”.
“South Africa, with its large rhino populations, has borne the brunt of rhino poaching. We remain confident that our efforts in implementing the integrated strategic approach will build on our successful track record of conserving rhino,” she said.
The rhinos may be moved to other areas of lower poaching rates such as state-owned or private nature parks, areas within the Kruger Park closer to the Mozambique border, or even to neighboring countries, according to the minister.
The new initiative will be supported by the South African government’s Security Cluster to work on tougher penalties for those caught hunting rhinos illegally.
The famed Kruger National Park, which is of a similar size to Wales or Israel, is thought to be home to as few as 8,400 white rhinos.
Park authorities said Kruger was the biggest target for poaching in the region, with more rhinos killed there each year than anywhere else in South Africa.
Although international trade in rhino horn has been illegal since 1977, demand remains high in some Asian countries, where it is used both in traditional medicine and as a symbol of wealth.