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Heavy Lifting: Boeing 747 Enlisted To Fly 30 White Rhinos To Rwanda

A Boeing 747-400BDSF has undertaken an historic airlift this week, transporting a group of 30 white rhinos from a game reserve in South Africa to their new home in Rwanda. The mission, which covered over 3,000 km (1,800 miles) is the biggest single white rhino translocation ever undertaken.

Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
A Boeing 747 has transported a group of 30 rhinos across Africa. Photo: African Parks

Largest ever translocation

A group of 30 wild white rhinos has been moved from South Africa to Rwanda in the biggest single rhino translocation ever conducted. Sourced from a private game reserve in South Africa, the group of rhinos were moved via a Boeing 747 to Akagera National Park in Rwanda.

The historic mission aims to extend the range of the endangered white rhino and to create a new breeding herd in Rwanda. Within the group, 11 males and 19 females were transported, a mix that conservationists say gives the group the highest chance of plenty of successful breeding. Ariella Kageruka, Rwanda Development Board’s Acting Chief Tourism Officer, commented,

“This is an opportunity for Rwanda to substantially advance its contribution to rhino conservation, with Akagera poised to become a globally important sanctuary for black and now white rhinoceros. This is timely for the conservation of these incredibly threatened species. We’re extremely proud of our conservation partnerships and our national parks, which are playing a pivotal role in meeting biodiversity targets and in driving sustainable, transformative, equitable socio-economic growth.”

Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
It is hoped the group will successfully breed in their new home. Photo: African Parks

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The flight

The rhinos were assisted into pallet crates for the purposes of transportation. Specialist handlers used blindfolds and ropes to guide the animals into their crates. From here, they were loaded onto trucks and driven to meet the aircraft, a distance of around 275 km (170 miles).

Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
Tranquilized rhinos are moved to their crates. Photo: African Parks
Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
Specialist handlers guided them into the transportation crates. Photo: African Parks
Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
Crates are craned onto trucks to drive to meet the aircraft. Photo: African Parks

Waiting to pick the animals up was TF-AMM, a 28 year old Boeing 747-400BDSF. It had flown from Liege to Luanda and then on to Durban to meet its special cargo. Crates were loaded on by scissor lift and secured in place in the cargo hold.

Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
Astral Aviation’s 747 was tasked with the massive uplift. Photo: African Parks
Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
Crates were lifted into the hold. Photo: African Parks
Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
All safely strapped in place. Photo: African Parks

The flight took off just after 21:00 local time on November 27th. It took just over three and a half hours to make the 3,000 km (1,864 mile) trip up to Kigali. The 747 landed at 00:44 the next morning.

Heavy Lifting: Boeing 747 Enlisted To Fly 30 White Rhinos To Rwanda
The flight took around 3.5 hours. Image:

The rhinos will be monitored daily in Akagera by a dedicated team of conservationists and will have regular visits from a veterinarian to ensure their transition goes smoothly. Each rhino has been fitted with a tracker to enable constant monitoring. In place for their protection is a canine anti-poaching unit and regular helicopter surveillance.

Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
Safely offloading the rhinos in Rwanda. Photo: African Parks

About the plane

The Boeing 747 actually started life as a passenger jet. According to data from ch-aviation, it began service flying for Malaysia Airlines as 9M-MPC, having been delivered in May 1993. Back then it had 18 first class, 50 business and 316 passenger seats.

Boeing 747 Rhino relocation
The aircraft is owned by Air Atlanta Icelandic. Photo: African Parks

However, just 14 years later, it was to be converted into a cargo aircraft. Under the ownership of Aircastle, a leasing firm, the aircraft underwent conversion at Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) taking on the designation of BEDEK Special Freighter (BDSF). It flew with World Airways from 2008 until 2013, when it joined the fleet of Air Atlanta Icelandic.

Air Atlanta continues to operate the 747-400BDSF in a wet lease capacity for Astral Aviation. Astral is a dedicated cargo carrier based in Nairobi, Kenya. It leases two 747s from Air Atlanta Icelandic, and has two DC-9 freighters and a Boeing 727 freighter of its own.

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