updated 5/11/2009 3:48:34 PM ET 2009-05-11T19:48:34

Kenya and Tanzania could relocate black rhinos to neighboring countries under a plan to increase the endangered species and boost tourism in the region, wildlife officials said Monday.

Kenya has 603 of the 709 rhinos in eastern Africa and hopes to move some of them to Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. Tanzania has virtually all the other rhinos.

"If you have them (the rhinos) in one basket, for example, when a disease strikes or there is political instability in one country then you can loss them all," said Benson Okita, a senior scientist with the Kenya Wildlife Service. "If you spread them across the region then when something happens then you have a chance of rebreeding and increasing the population."

The six eastern African countries hope to raise the black rhino population to 3,000 by 2039, Okita said.

Wildlife authorities and other conservationists agreed to the plan after a one-day meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi on Monday. They will hold further meetings over the next two years to pin down the details.

Moving rhinos is a complicated process because of the animals' weight — an adult can weigh more than a ton — and the distance to be covered among the six countries will be vast.

Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda also hope to boost the black rhino population by pooling together money for conservation as well as working together on anti-poaching programs and scientific research, said Okita. He also said countries like Burundi and Ethiopia, whose black rhino populations are extinct, can offer to swap animals with other countries that still have black rhino populations.

"We are reducing our risk and we are spreading our risk. When you do this, you have a high chance of success," Okita told The Associated Press.

The black rhino is only found in eastern and southern Africa. It is labeled one of the big five, a category of must-see animals while on safari — the buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion being the others.

The black rhino, which is actually gray, is hook-lipped and has a thick, hairless hide. It has two horns, the longer of which sits at the front of the nose.

Rampant poaching decimated the black rhino population from a high of 65,000 across Africa in the 1970s. Southern Africa now has a population of 3,600 black rhinos.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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