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San Diego Rhino Adjusting To African Home

Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Global
Eric the 2,550-pound eastern black rhino shortly after he arrived at his new home at a game reserve in the Serengeti in Tanzania on Sep. 11, 2018.

Earlier this month the San Diego Zoo sent an eastern black rhino to Tanzania as part of an effort to repopulate rhinos in the Serengeti. Eric is an 8-year-old bull that has genes which are overrepresented in the North American captive population but are not represented in Africa. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson talked to Beverly “Beezie” Burden of the Singita Grumeti Fund about the transition and Eric’s future.

Q: How is he doing?

A: Eric is doing exceptionally well. We are extremely pleased with his transition from San Diego to Singita Grumeti and the western corridor of the Serengeti. And he moved out of his enclosure and underneath the Tanzanian sky.

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Beverly “Beezie” Burden
Beverly “Beezie” Burden is shown in this undated photo.

Q: What were you expecting before he came?

A: We were expecting success but also preparing to make sure that everything went well because it was a move this big, this long and taking an animal from one environment into a new environment you have to be prepared for things to go wrong. But we were extremely lucky and grateful that they didn’t and the team came together really well.

Q: I guess there were some hiccups on the way there. Is that right?

A: So it was a 68-hour journey. That was quite the feat. It involved two trucks. Three different airplanes. Five countries. And I think something like 10,000 miles. So he came quite a long way, but he did it. And we did it. And it happened with a great amount of celebration when he landed here.

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Q: What is the plan for him? How much access will he get to the reserve?

A: He’ll have to take time to be able to be a wild rhino. Because we would never release him into an area without him being completely capable of browsing and sustaining his diet. We also have to monitor and figure out different diseases that we have in Tanzania that he wouldn’t have been exposed to from ticks or tsetse flies so all of that is being monitored. We expect for him to be in the smaller enclosure that he is in for several months and then he’ll be released into a bigger one. A rhino intensive protection zone is where he is located and that is 276 hectares.

Q: There’s a lot of thought when we discuss rhinoceroses, a lot of thought, time and effort given to protecting the animals from poaching. How do you do that?

A: We have a very specific security plan for the entire concession for the 350,000 acres but also specifically for the rhino. And it is multilayered. It involves 100 game scouts. It involves technology that we’re using that collects and collates data in real time so we have instant access to any event or incident that’s happening in our area. It will eventually involve aerial support and a drone program and we have a very developed intelligence program. And then another new project we started about a year ago is a canine unit. And so all of these different layers are integral into, not only the security of the rhinos but the security of the larger area.

San Diego Rhino Adjusting To African Home
An eastern black rhino, born and raised at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is safely on the ground in Tanzania, Africa. Eric the rhino will take part in a breeding program to help the critically endangered species.