Pu'er Prefecture is in the process of reestablishing an animal population that disappeared from China more than 80 years ago. Seven southern white rhinoceros from Africa have arrived at a nature reserve in southern Yunnan and will soon be released into the wild.
The rhinos were purchased from the South African government in 2010. They were brought to Kunming after first arriving from Africa via ship in Guangzhou. Animal handlers kept the rhinos at the Yunnan Wild Animals Zoo (云南野生动物园) for nearly three years as they acclimated to their new surroundings and grew to adulthood.
This year on March 28, the rhinos were transported to their permanent home at Laiyanghe National Forest Park (菜阳河国家森林公园) in Pu'er. Zoologists hope the four female and three male rhinos will breed and eventually become the progenitors of a self-sustaining wild herd. Currently the animals are being held for observation before being released into the 207 square kilometer reserve.
Southern white rhinos are the least threatened of the world's five rhinoceros species, numbering more than 17,000 — mostly in South Africa. However, the northern white rhinoceros — a close cousin — could become extinct at any time, as only four individuals are known to live in the wild. It appears the rhinos brought to Yunnan are part of larger, international conservation efforts and were not purchased simply to become a tourist attraction.
Adult white rhinos can grow to almost two meters in height and males often weigh more than 3,000 kilograms. Despite their size, male rhinos require relatively small territories which average no more than three square kilometers. Females, especially those raising calves, need much larger areas in which to forage for food — sometimes up to 20 square kilometers per adult.
Transportation of the animals from Kunming to Pu'er was somewhat surprisingly accomplished without the use of tranquilizers. An animal handler surnamed Liu told China Daily he could keep the rhinos calm while in transit by tickling them, which they apparently enjoy.
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