Black rhino threat: Poachers target Kent wildlife parks

New black rhino calf with mother Ruaha
Image caption Black rhinos from the Kent wildlife parks have been released into the wild in Africa

Rare rhinos in wildlife parks may be under threat from poachers, police in Kent have warned.

Night-time patrols have been stepped up by the Aspinall Foundation, which runs Port Lympne and Howletts wildlife parks near Canterbury.

Police said they had an anonymous tip-off the foundation's black rhinos could be targeted by poachers, who sell the horns for traditional medicine.

The foundation currently has 20 black rhinos at the two parks.

The animals are locked up at night, but the parks are asking local people to help increase the patrols.

Bob O'Connor, the managing director of the two parks, said: "We had a call from Kent Police saying they had been informed through Crimestoppers that someone intended to harm our rhino.

"Over the last few years there has been a trend for breaking into museums and stealing stuffed rhino heads for their horns, including one recently in Kent."

He said keepers live on-site at the parks and carry out patrols overnight.

"With this level of threat, and it's impossible to judge what the threat is, we have now stepped up those night-time patrols and we are asking local people to work with our staff to increase the number of patrols."

He said a rhino horn could sell for up to £200,000.

Michael Laidlow, the wildlife and rural environmental crime co-ordinator for Kent Police said the force had received anonymous information that the parks may be attacked.

"We've taken steps to deal with it by informing the park and making officers aware of what the threat is.

"We take every threat seriously, especially when it deals with the rhinos," he said.

'Vile activities'

Over the last seven years 33 black rhinos have been born in the foundation's parks and members of the critically endangered species have been returned to the wild.

Last year three animals from Port Lympne were released in Tanzania.

Poachers target animals living in the wild in Africa. The horns are used in traditional medicine in countries such as China and Vietnam.

Damian Aspinall said: "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 June the Duke of Cambridge spoke out against the illegal trade in rhino horn, calling those who take part in it "ignorant, selfish and utterly wrong".

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