Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Saturday, 26 April 2008 09:17 UK

Rhinos where you least expect them

By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

Black rhino (PA)
Lympne sends black rhino to Africa

"Good morning. It's time to go on safari."

The clock says 5.30. Getting out of bed and opening the flaps of the tent, you pause for a while on the small veranda.

The vista is stunning: flat open fields with the gentle curve of the coast and soft blue of the sea in the middle distance. Close by, some giraffes lope past, and the wildebeest are grazing by the watering hole.

Southern Africa? Kenya? No. Try a bit closer to home. Try Kent. For this is the "African" safari experience at Lympne Wildlife Park near Dover.

The idea is to recreate a mini-safari, with authentic lodge tents and African rangers, in 100 acres of land where more than 300 animals roam free.

Warren Cathro is the ranger and host on the two safaris you take on the overnight stay.

He's got more than 20 years' experience in conservation work in Zimbabwe, and is never short of a tale of his exploits in Africa, whether it's catching black rhino or transporting giraffes by train.

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Meet rhinos on safari - in Kent

"If you look at it in the context of what we have available here, it is very, very close - as close as you are going to get in Europe," he says.

"And if we can get parks like this functioning, and breeding up stock to send over to Africa, there is hope for the wildlife out there."

Warren is talking about the crash in the African wildlife population, which is now being addressed by European wildlife parks.

Money from these mini-safaris will go towards the conservation work at Lympne.

It is the only conservation body in the world to be sending critically endangered black rhino back to African countries such as Tanzania to help boost populations there. It also has re-introduction programmes for gorillas in Gabon in West Africa.

Obviously, it's never going to be exactly like the African safari experience - predators such as cheetahs are going to be introduced, but they will be penned in, and won't be reacting with the herbivores (another thing that's different about Lympne and Africa - health and safety requirements).

But, the organisers say, it does give you a little slice of the work that is being done thousands of miles from the Kentish coast.


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