The Aspinall Foundation, which runs two wildlife parks in Kent, is appealing for volunteers to help guard its herds of black rhino, after being warned by police that its parks are being targeted by poachers. It is believed to be the first time they have plotted raids in the UK.
Black rhino are critically endangered and have been hunted to the brink of extinction in the wild. Poachers are thought to have targeted the Port Lympne and Howletts Wild Animal Parks in Kent, as home to one of the world's most important collection of black rhinos, outside Africa.
It is tragic and beyond belief that, as we do everything possible to restore these magnificent animals safely to the wild, the human traders who seek to profit from their slaughter should bring their vile activities to the UK. In the light of what Kent police have told us is a genuine threat, we will do everything to protect our herds. Our volunteers will be recruited responsibly after careful vetting. Their presence will enable us to be vigilant and alert at every point at which the rhino could possibly come under threat."
– Damian Aspinall, the Aspinall Foundation
Mr Aspinall said he would also like to ask visitors to Howletts and Port Lympne to report any suspicious behaviour to staff and volunteers. The Aspinall Foundation is one of the most successful breeders of black rhino. In the last seven years, the foundation has seen 33 successful births.
Security has been stepped up at wildlife parks in Kent in response to a plot to hunt rhinos. Police were tipped off that the animals are set to be targeted at Howletts and Port Lympne animal parks.
Poachers in Africa regularly shoot rhinos to make off with their horns, which are highly valued for alternative medicine in parts of Asia. The parks have called for volunteers to help them carry out 24-hour patrols, while police have also stepped up surveillance.
"What we're worried about is criminals taking it to the next level. We've upped our night-time patrols, we doubled that straight away with our Keepers who live on site. We have to take this as a credible threat. You can get up to £200,000 for a rhino horn. It's used in Far Eastern medicine. It's claimed to have medicinal qualities, which is a nonsense."
– Bob O'Connor, managing director of Howletts and Port Lympne
There was anonymous information through Crimestoppers saying there was a possible attack on rhinos. We've spoken to all the owners of rhinos in the South East and they are taking measures to combat it. All our wildlife officers are aware of the information and we're taking steps to increase patrols in the area."
– PC Michael Laidlow, wildlife crime officer for Kent Police
Rhino horn is worth £65,000 a kilo, which makes it more valuable than cocaine, heroin and gold. Two men were jailed after a failed bid to steal a rhino head from a museum in Norwich in February last year.
There are 20 black rhinos at the parks, out of just 45 in the whole of Europe.
A wildlife park in Kent is being targeted by animal poachers. The Aspinall Foundation which runs the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park says they've recieved a warning from the police over their world famous herds of black rhino.
The park is home to the most important collection of black rhinos, outside Africa. It's believed to be the first time that poachers have plotted raids in the UK.