Twelve Rhinos walk onto a plane. It sounds like the start of a joke, but for Les Carlisle, it’s a reality – and a challenging one at that.
Carlisle is the manager of conservation group Rhinos Without Borders, and he’s just managed to save 12 white rhinos from poachers in South Africa. The rhinos were collected from a game park in KwaZulu Natal, where they boarded a truck, then a plane, and finally, a helicopter, taking them to their safe new home in Botswana (the exact location of which has not been made public, to further protect the rhinos).
Think about the logistics for a second: 12 rhinoceroses, each weighing 1.5 tonnes, on three kinds of transport. The journey lasts 15 hours in total.
How does one even begin to approach such a task? “We send them an email with a boarding pass and a seat number, and then we run like hell,” Carlisle joked to the BBC.
Really, though, it’s a weird and wonderful process. First, each rhinoceros is captured and placed in a steel crate designed specifically for the task. They’re sedated and fitted with blindfolds and ear plugs. “You have to immobilise them,” said Carlisle. “Make them go to sleep completely, and then blindfold them. And then you put earplugs in their ears.”
Once asleep, they’re given a partial sedative “reversal”, allowing them to stand up. “They’re unco-ordinated at that stage – so then you put a rope round their heads and you pull them slowly into the crate.
The animals can’t remain asleep for the duration of the flight, as they need to regulate their breathing and move their legs to avoid pins and needles and restricted circulation.
Obviously, the difficult part is actually moving the animals. First, a crane lifts each rhino onto a truck which takes them to the airport. They’re then moved onto a loading vehicle and are finally rolled onto the plane itself. It takes 10-12 people to help move each rhino, “and we normally do two at a time, so 25 people,” said Carlisle.
A “big military transport plane” is used, transporting a maximum of four rhinos at a time, and the flight takes two hours and 40 minutes. Next came a mountain of paperwork, but the journey wasn’t done just yet. After it was discovered that their new home was at risk of flooding, they had to move once more, via helicopter.
Rhinos Without Borders has been moving rhinos since 2015, and eventually hope to move 100 rhinoceroses in total – despite the $45,000US cost per animal.
(All image: Rhinos Without Borders official website)