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Rare Rhino Gets Custom Flight to Africa

rhino flight eliska
Eliska, a rare eastern black rhinoceros, explores her new enclosure at Mkomazi National Park in Tanzania. The fenced park is patrolled by armed guards to protect rhinos from poachers who hunt them for their horns. A burgeoning black market in traditional medicine keeps rhinos in constant danger. (Image credit: Jan Stejskal/ZOO Dvur Kralove)

An endangered black rhinoceros named Eliska is at home in Africa after a 31-hour flight from the Czech Republic in a custom-painted airplane. 

Eliska was born at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, an institution known for its rhino conservation program. Until recently, the zoo was home to one of the last five remaining northern white rhinos left on Earth; today only three are left at a conservancy in Kenya. 

Black rhinos are in less dire straits than the northern white subspecies, but they are still critically endangered, with just over 5,000 surviving in the wild. They are threatened by poaching for their horns as well as by habitat loss, according to the World Wildlife Fund. 

Workers secure Eliska the rhinoceros's crate on a truck during her journey from the Czech Republic to Tanzania. Eliska is the fourth black rhinoceros that Zoo Dvur Kralove has transported to Tanzania. The zoo now has a herd of 15 black rhinos, including several pregnant females. (Image credit: Jan Stejskal/ZOO Dvur Kralove)

Saving rhinos

Captive breeding is one tool in the fight to save black rhinoceroses. Zoo Dvur Kralove has a herd of 15 black rhinos. On June 9th, one gave birth, raising the count of black rhino calves born at the zoo to 42. Two other females are pregnant, according to a zoo spokesperson. Eliska herself was born at the zoo in 2012.

Eliska is the fourth black rhino transported from Dvur Kralove to Tanzania for breeding. She made the voyage Sunday (June 26) in a specially designed rhinoceros transport crate, which flew aboard a plane emblazoned with her name at the logo of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, which helps fund the Mkomazi National Park, Eliska's new home. The park is fenced and patrolled to protect against poachers. 

Welcome signs at Mkomazi National Park in Tanzania celebrate the arrival of Eliska the black rhino. (Image credit: Jan Stejskal/ZOO Dvur Kralove)

Rare subspecies

"We are well aware that rhino populations in Africa are under immense pressure," Premysl Rabas, the director of Dvur Kralove, said in a statement. "However, the Mkomazi National Park has achieved great results in rhino conservation and it is our conviction that Mkomazi is the best place for creating a new viable rhino population in Tanzania. In view of our breeding record, it is our moral obligation to help to save rhinos and restore their numbers in the wild."

Eliska is particularly important to conservation efforts because she is an eastern black rhino, the most threatened subspecies. There are only about 800 eastern black rhinos left. (The West African black rhino went extinct in 2011. The other two remaining black rhino subspecies are the southern-central black rhino and the south-western black rhino.)

Eliska the rhinoceros emerges from her transport crate. A veterinarian supervised Eliska's health and safety throughout the 31-hour journey to Tanzania. The 4-year-old rhino will become part of the breeding effort to restore eastern black rhinoceros in their native habitat. (Image credit: Jan Stejskal/ZOO Dvur Kralove)

After Eliska landed in Kilimanjaro, she was accompanied by a police escort to Mkomazi, according to Zoo Dvur Kralove. She was under the care of a veterinarian during the journey and had no problems, according to the zoo. Once safely in her new Tanzanian enclosure, the young rhino enjoyed a meal of hay and carrots.

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Stephanie Pappas
Stephanie Pappas

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.