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06/10/2013

What it means to have African rhinos in China's rainforests

Rhinos

A white rhino in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. (MCT photo)

Can African rhinos survive in Chinese rainforests?

More importantly, can rhinos survive in a country with a lucrative rhino horn trade?

As seven rhinos await their release into the wild, these are some of the questions that critics are asking. The animals arrived under a blaze of publicity earlier this year at the Pu'er National Forest Park in the hills of Yunnan province in southwest China. They are among more than 150 rhinos brought to China between 2007 and 2012. The transported rhinos are between the ages of 6 and 8.

An employee of the Mekog Group, which is creating thousands of acres of forestland into a national park, told AFP that the dream is that the rhinos breed.

The project is about scientific research, he added.

But experts say rhinos, who are used to grasslands, will not survive in rainforests.

“These animals will just not survive in a rainforest-type environment,” said Tom Milliken, a rhino expert with the conservation group Traffic. “We have concerns about nutrition and their overall ability to cope. If they don't have supplementary food, they could starve.”

This scheme comes as poaching of African rhinos booms. It has been blamed on high demand for rhino horn-based traditional medicine products across Southeast Asia and China. According to reports recent prices in Vietnam, the main market for rhino horn, make the powder more expensive than gold.

At present in South Africa, poachers are killing two rhinos every day on an average.

It is estimated that there are around 20,000 white rhinos left with the majority in South Africa and Namibia. There are also an estimated 5,000 black rhinos still alive but in South Africa, poachers are killing two rhinos every day

Trade in rhino horn is prohibited but the ban is boosting illegal poaching by constricting the supply of rhino horn and driving up the price: in 1993, a kilogram sold for around $4,700 but in 2012, it was selling for as much as $65,000.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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