A WILDLIFE team has set off from South Cumbria to partake in an important conservation mission.

South Lakes Safari Zoo bid bon voyage to three members of the team at the weekend as they set off to South Africa for the journey of a lifetime.

Kim Banks, Sam Brewer and Anna Gillard have gone to South Africa to join anti-rhino poaching efforts and see first-hand the work of rangers, people and dogs working on the front line of conservation and protection.

That have travelled to Hluhluwe, a game reserve established in 1895, the oldest game reserve in South Africa which is home to an incredible array of wildlife.

They will visit Project Rhino K9 to meet the anti-poaching dogs and their handlers, learn how the dogs are trained and how they track poachers through scents.

They will also join anti-poaching patrols, taking some firearms training and learning bush survival skills.

K9 units have proven to be an essential tool to fight wildlife crime by tracking down poachers. These use dogs to detect wildlife products and recover illegal weapons and ammunition. 

Cumbria zoo has been used as training site for dogs today serving on the front-line of conservation.

Alongside giraffes, warthogs, cheetahs, wildebeest, and zebras, the so-called 'Big Five' can be spotted in the reserve - lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants, as well as both white and black rhinoceroses.

One of the most famous rhino reserves in the world, the national park has played a key role in the rehabilitation of African white rhino populations, which were once thought to be extinct.

By 2010, South Africa was home to over 90% of all rhinos in Africa, and the ripple effects of this project continue to be seen in rhino conservation today.

Today, every single southern white rhino population in the world has its genetic origin in the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park.

Despite this, a devastating 451 rhinos were killed by poachers between January and December 2021.