JOHANNESBURG (REUTERS) - South Africa will relocate six endangered black rhinos to Chad where the animal was hunted to local extinction decades ago, the environment ministry in Pretoria said.
If the experiment is successful, the central African nation will host the most northerly wild population of black rhinos in Africa. This could pave the way for the species to be reintroduced to other parts of its former continental range from which it was exterminated due to poaching.
"A team of experts from South Africa will visit Chad to assess the habitat, security and management suitability and associated ecological parameters as well as infrastructural readiness prior to the translocation," South Africa's environment ministry said in a statement.
A date for the relocation has not been set yet.
The rhinos' destination will be Zakouma National Park in the southeast of Chad, an impoverished oil-producer. Found just south of the Sahara Desert, Zakouma is home to a recovering elephant population of several hundred and is managed by the African Parks Foundation, a conservation NGO.
Africa has two rhino species of which the white rhino is the larger and more numerous of the two. The black rhino is famed for its ornery disposition and is far more apt to charge at any perceived threat.
Black rhinos have not roamed Chad since the early 1970s and the species has been eliminated from much of its original range in the face of relentless poaching.
The move comes against the backdrop of an unfolding rhino poaching crisis in South Africa, home to most of the world's population of the bulky pachyderms.
The number of rhinos poached for their horns in South Africa fell 10 percent in 2016 to 1,054, the second straight year of decline according to government data, but conservationists say the levels remain alarming.
Rhino poaching rates in South Africa had surged from 83 in 2008 to a record 1,215 in 2014 to meet red-hot demand in newly-affluent Asian countries such as Vietnam, where the horn is prized as a key ingredient in traditional medicines.
South Africa has more than 80 percent of the world's rhino population with about 18,000 white rhinos and close to 2,000 black rhinos, which is why it has been at the frontline of the horn poaching crisis.