British troops have helped to relocate a group of critically endangered black rhinos from South Africa to Malawi to protect the animals against poaching.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles have recently returned home from a three-month counter-poaching deployment in Malawi, in south-eastern Africa.
Based in Liwonde National Park, near the Mozambique border, they worked with the African Parks conservation organisation to train current and new rangers, in a bid to help to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade by improving the effectiveness of patrols.
According to African Parks, the mission saw 17 black rhinos moved from South Africa to Malawi.
Towards the end of their mission, the Gurkhas helped with one of the largest international rhino translocations to date, offloading the 1.4-tonne animals which had travelled by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
Major Jez England, officer commanding British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde said the operation had been “hugely successful”.
He added: "Not only do we share skills with the rangers, improving their efficiency and ability to patrol larger areas, but it also provides a unique opportunity for our soldiers to train in a challenging environment.
"Helping with the rhino move was a fitting end to our time in Malawi, getting up close to the animals we are here to help protect was an experience the soldiers won’t forget."
So far, the Army has helped train 200 rangers in Malawi and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.
The project was led by African Parks in conjunction with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
There are around 5,500 black rhinos in the wild today as they are poached for their horn.
This project will help boost the rhino population in the region and help preserve this critically endangered species for the next generation.
Since their release, African Parks is continuing to intensively monitor the rhinos as they settle in to their new environment.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational crime behind drugs, arms and human trafficking and can have hugely destabilising consequences.
He added: "With this deployment, our armed forces have once again demonstrated their versatility and value by contributing to the conservation work taking place in Malawi.
"Working with local communities, host governments and wildlife groups is key to our approach, we want to see sustainable, community-led solutions that help promote security and stability for both the people and wildlife of Africa."
The counter-poaching ranger partnering programme is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and delivered by the British Army.
The UK Government has committed over £36 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021.
Part of this is to help support transboundary work to allow animals to transit more safely between areas, and across national borders.