British soldiers have helped to relocate critically-endangered black rhinos as part of efforts to protect the animals against poaching.
Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles have recently come back from a three-month counter-poaching deployment in Malawi, southeastern Africa.
Based in Liwonde National Park, near the border with Mozambique, they worked in conjunction with African Parks, a conservation organisation.
They trained current and new rangers in a bid to crack down on the illegal trade by improving the effectiveness of patrols.
While they were there, the soldiers helped with one of the biggest international rhino translocations so far, offloading the 1.4-tonne animals which had been transported by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
The mission saw 17 black rhinos moved from South Africa to Malawi, according to African Parks.
There are around 5,500 black rhinos in the wild today.
Major Jez England, officer commanding British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde, described the operation as “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.”
The army has helped train 200 rangers in Malawi – and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.
Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife also worked on the project.
It will help boost the rhino population in the region and help preserve the critically endangered species for the next generation.
The 17 rhinos have been monitored intensely since their release, 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 UK government has committed more than £36m to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021, with the counter-poaching ranger partnering programme funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.