South African rangers seek to track rhinos in wildlife park

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa -- A heavily pregnant rhino lay in the scrub in a South African wildlife park, sedated by rangers who attached a tracking device to the threatened animal as part of efforts to stop poaching in a country with most of the world's rhinos.

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Journalists witnessed the operation last weekend in Kruger National Park, where poachers have killed rhinos in record numbers to meet consumer demand for their horns in parts of Asia, particularly Vietnam.

Such tracking devices will allow rangers to monitor rhino movements and develop better ways to protect them, said Markus Hofmeyr, a senior veterinarian for South Africa's national parks service.

"We're going to be intensively monitoring a certain percentage of the rhinos because that will give us coverage of where other rhinos are as well," Hofmeyr said. He requested that media not report details about the tracking device, saying poachers search for information that could help their illegal activities.

The black female rhino that was sedated Saturday was at least 15 years old and had been pregnant for about a year. The gestation period is about 16 months.

The sleeping rhino snorted at times, eyes covered with a cloth to reduce the chance that she would awaken.

The total population of critically endangered black rhinos is about 5,000, roughly one-quarter of the white rhino population.

Black rhinos breed less quickly and are less adaptable to new environments than white rhinos, Hofmeyr said. Many people think rhinos are solitary, but they often socialize at night in groups of half a dozen, he said.

The darted rhino had been accompanied by a male rhino and a calf.

"As soon as she wakes up, she'll go looking for them," Hofmeyr said. "It's not a crisis because she's in her area that she knows."



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