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'Mammoth task' as 500 rhinos moved to beat poachers

South Africa plans to move up to 500 rhinos from its flagship Kruger National Park to counter a wave of poaching of the animals for their horns, highly prized in newly affluent Asian countries as a sign of wealth.

Officials said the mission could see some of the animals shipped to nearby Botswana and Zambia as South Africa grapples with a poaching epidemic that has seen more than 630 rhinos killed so far this year.

"We have to take rhinos to where they are safe," Markus Hofmeyr, head vet of the national park said.

The latest census from the Kruger shows it has between 8,400 and 9,600 white rhinos.

Despite the 
poaching, the population has stabilised with an annual mortality rate, including poaching, of around 8pc matched by an 8pc birth rate.

The removals will be a huge operation that will involve tracking down the animals in rugged and remote bush and then darting them with tranquilisers from helicopters.

"It is a mammoth task. We are looking at numbers of up to 500," Environment Minister Edna Molewa said. "We must start soon."