Rhinos Return to Chad

The rare black rhino has returned to the nation of Chad, after decades of poaching had decimated their population. In a historic move to aid in the long-term survival of this endangered species, in May 2018, six black rhino were reintroduced from South Africa to Zakouma National Park in Chad, bringing this animal back to the country for the first time in over four decades.

This is a hopeful story about the revival of a highly threatened species, as well as the trajectory of Zakouma – a park that was once ravaged by poaching and insecurity but has been transformed into a secure and flourishing park since 2010. The last time a wild rhino was seen in Chad was in the 1970s, decades of poaching having driven them to local extinction, so such a translocation represents an urgent and valuable opportunity to expand the range and protection of this iconic species.

There are two types of African rhino – white and black rhino. The black rhino in turn is divided into three subspecies: southern black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor), south-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) and the eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli). (A fourth subspecies, the western black rhino Diceros bicornis longipes was declared extinct in 2011.)

Once fairly common on the African continent, the onslaught of poaching on rhino populations across Africa has resulted in the drastic decline of black rhino, from approximately 65,000 to less than 5,000 remaining in the wild at the end of the 20th century – a drop of some 96% of the population.

This is not the first time African Parks has undertaken the translocation of this endangered species. In May of 2017, in collaboration with the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, African Parks successfully translocated 18 black rhino to Akagera National Park in Rwanda, bringing the species back after a decade, and returning them to a secure park. In 2003, African Parks also reintroduced black rhino to Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi.


Moving Rhino Back to Zakouma National Park

Zakouma is once again home to black rhino ©Steve Winter

The Republic of Chad was historically home to at least two rhino species: the northern white rhino (a subspecies of the white rhino) and the western black rhino (a subspecies of the black rhino), the latter which lived in Zakouma up to 1972 – and the last time a wild rhino was seen in the country. Poaching was the primary cause of both of their local extinctions in Chad. The western black rhino was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011, and the last male northern white rhino died in March 2018.

The black rhino translocation is helping to establish Chad as a new range state for the species, providing a valuable opportunity to expand its distribution in Africa, while contributing to the enhancement of Zakouma’s natural system and its role in socio-economic development.

Forming part of the vision of African Parks and the park, the rhinos’ return is a key milestone towards restoring Zakouma to its previous natural glory for the country and its people. The homecoming aims to elevate the park’s international profile, boost the local economy, directly benefiting local communities, helping to establish the park as a valued national asset, and to solidify Zakouma as a flagship park in showing what is possible with ecological restoration.

The Move

In October 2017, the governments of South Africa and Chad signed a memorandum of understanding to enable the translocation of a founder population of black rhinoceros to Zakouma National Park, thus reintroducing the species to the central African country.

Meanwhile, Zakouma National Park staff undertook two years of substantial research, planning and preparation to ensure for the animals’ safety and wellbeing. The staff received training in rhino tracking and monitoring to ensure the best possible outcome for rhinos in the region. Consultation with experts and specialist groups also occurred to secure a genetically appropriate and available source of the black rhino for reintroduction.

Security measures were implemented, including establishing a dedicated rhino ranger unit which received advanced training. In addition to this well-equipped team, aerial surveillance and numerous other security measures were put into place specifically for the reintroduction.

The Journey

Ranger patrols contribute to the overall monitoring and safety of rhino in Zakouma © Marcus Westberg

Earlier in 2018, South African National Parks (SANParks) had sourced six rhino in Addo National Park in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, which were darted and transferred to purpose-built bomas (holding pens) to allow for a sufficient period of adjustment and monitoring before their final move to Chad. 

On Thursday the 3rd of May, the rhino were transferred to South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Airport and flown to Zakouma on Friday morning in a historic 3,000-mile cross-continent translocation, where they arrived safely: finally, the species returned to the country after almost half a century of its absence.

Having been attended by a team of experienced vets and other experts for the duration of the journey, the rhino were in good condition on arrival. After being dehorned and fitted with a tracking device, they were released into purposely constructed enclosures for a short period of close monitoring and acclimatisation. After almost two months, they were released into a temporary sanctuary to familiarise them with their new environment. At this point, having settled down, they were successfully released into the wider, secure park where they continued to be monitored 24 hours a day by the dedicated surveillance team.

Rhinos Return to Chad

Watch now: The rare black rhino has been returned to the nation of Chad. The last wild rhino was seen in this central African country in the 1970's after decades of poaching drove them to local extinction. In a historic move to aid in the long-term survival of this endangered and heavily threatened species, six black rhinos were reintroduced from South Africa to Chad in May 2018.

Zakouma National Park situated in southern Chad was historically home to a diversity of large African mammals, many of which were sadly hunted to local extinction over recent decades. Since 2010, African Parks has partnered with the Government of Chad with a vision of restocking the park with species that have become locally extinct and securing their long-term protection.

After decades of poaching once threatened the park’s very existence, today, Zakouma has become a refuge for some of the most important wildlife populations in Central Africa.

In addition to rhino becoming locally extinct in 1972, poaching also decimated the park's elephant population. In 2002, Zakouma was home to more than 4,000 elephants – but by 2010 after an onslaught of poaching for their tusks, only 450 remained. When African Parks, in partnership with the Government of Chad, assumed management, overhauled conservation law enforcement and worked closely with the local communities to protect the park, poaching levels dropped to an all-time low, and numerous species rebounded. Risen from the ashes, Zakouma has become a safe haven for Central and West African wildlife. It is now a place where wildlife and people who call this park home are able to thrive.

The rhino are being looked after by African Parks as part of its overall responsibility for the total management of Zakouma and managed in accordance with a verified rhino management programme.


Sadly, four rhino were lost in Zakouma following their translocation. Every possible measure was undertaken to establish the exact ecological factors that contributed to their mortalities and to mitigate risks in future translocations. Extensive study indicated deficiencies in micronutrients such as Selenium and Nitrogen, resulting in a sudden loss of body fat at the end of the wet season which made them more susceptible to secondary infections they eventually succumbed to. On the advice of a team of veterinarians experienced in working with black rhino, the remaining two animals were recaptured and placed in holding facilities to facilitate closer management with tracking devices. They have since remained in good health, confirming that Zakouma’s habitat is suitable for black rhino despite the losses from the previous translocation efforts. Plans are underway to add rhino to the existing two in the park, with extensive research and feasibility studies being done to prepare for the next translocation and to better understand the challenges of the previous rhino translocation to prevent further losses.

The translocation was possible thanks to a collaboration between the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, the Government of the Republic of Chad, as well as African Parks and South African National Park (SANParks). The rhino were generously made available to the Republic of Chad by the South African Government under a joint MOU.

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