Rhino swap success a win for conservation
Weekday drivers most likely would have thought nothing of two, plain-looking trucks passing each other between Halls Gap and Werribee on Wednesday. Only the uniformed zoo keepers accompanying the convoys hinted at the animals inside.
In a win for conservation, Werribee Open Range Zoo and Halls Gap Zoo have successfully swapped two male Southern White Rhinoceroses as part of a national breeding program.
Werribee Zoo’s 23-year-old male Kapamba was swapped with 10-year-old male Kifaru from Halls Gap Zoo on August 28, the result of months of planning and training by two teams of dedicated keepers and staff.
Both Kapamba and Kifaru were ‘crate trained’ by expert keepers in the lead up to the swap to ensure their safety and welfare during the move. This training is designed to empower the animals, reducing stress and giving them the choice to enter the crate or not.
The animals were moved on the same day, transport vehicles passing each other on the road between Werribee and Halls Gap. The crates were then lifted by crane off the vehicles, opened, and the Rhinos were given time to walk out into their new homes.
“To say these trucks were carrying precious cargo is an understatement,” Werribee Open Range Zoo General Manager of Life Sciences Russel Traher said. “With an average of three Rhinos killed in the wild every day, Kapamba and Kifaru are vital members of a species under serious threat from illegal poaching.”
Both zoos hope the swap will result in the pitter patter of tiny rhino hooves and increased awareness for conservation.
Kifaru is a fresh genetic match for Werribee Zoo’s females and is earmarked for the important job of siring a new generation of rhinos. He will initially be paired with six-year-old female Kipenzi, who was born at Werribee Zoo in 2013. There is also the potential for Kifaru to sire young with the zoo’s two other females, Letaba and Sisi.
“We’re very excited to welcome Kifaru to Werribee Open Range Zoo,” Mr Traher said. “We know visitors are going to fall in love with him and hopefully everyone gets to meet his offspring down on the savannah in the future.”
Kapamba, who can no longer breed due to a medical condition, will settle in to his new home at Halls Gap Zoo as a vital part of the species’ insurance population, educating visitors about the plight of this incredible animal during that zoo’s popular Rhino Rumble encounter.
This swap is a win-win for both institutions and for the animals,” said Halls Gap Zoo co-owner Greg Culell. “Kifaru is an absolute delight and it’s really exciting for us to know he’s gone to such a large and natural environment at Werribee Zoo to breed. And we now have a wonderful rhino in Kapamba who will have such an impact on visitors and be a great
ambassador for conservation.”
Mr Culell said that, while rhino calves are the intended outcome of swap, Kifaru and Kapamba are already doing their part for conservation.
“Zoos are so important for breeding and insurance populations but they cannot be Noah’s Arks,” he said. “We need to have an impact on visitors that encourages them to preserve the ecosystems wild animals live in. That’s why you visit animals like Kapamba and Kifaru – to make that connection.”