Eight en­dan­gered black rhi­nos die in Kenya af­ter re­lo­ca­tion

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - KHALED KAZZIHA

NAIROBI, KENYA — Eight crit­i­cally en­dan­gered black rhi­nos are dead in Kenya af­ter wildlife work­ers moved them from the cap­i­tal to a new na­tional park, the gov­ern­ment said Fri­day, call­ing the toll “un­prece­dented” in more than a decade of such trans­fers.

Pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tions point to salt poi­son­ing as the rhi­nos tried to adapt to saltier wa­ter in their new home, the Min­istry of Tourism and Wildlife said in a state­ment, de­scrib­ing how the an­i­mals likely be­came de­hy­drated and drank more salty wa­ter in a fa­tal cy­cle.

The min­istry sus­pended the on­go­ing move of rhi­nos and said the sur­viv­ing ones in the new park were be­ing closely mon­i­tored.

The loss is “a com­plete dis­as­ter,” said prom­i­nent Kenyan con­ser­va­tion­ist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists in Africa have been work­ing hard to pro­tect the black rhino sub­species from poach­ers tar­get­ing them for their horns to sup­ply an il­le­gal Asian mar­ket.

In mov­ing a group of 11 rhi­nos to the newly cre­ated Tsavo East Na­tional Park from Nairobi last month, the Kenya Wildlife Ser­vice said it hoped to boost the pop­u­la­tion there. The gov­ern­ment agency has not said how the rhi­nos died. Four­teen of the an­i­mals were to be moved in all.

“Mov­ing rhi­nos is com­pli­cated, akin to mov­ing gold bul­lion, it re­quires ex­tremely care­ful plan­ning and se­cu­rity due to the value of these rare an­i­mals,” Kahumbu said in a state­ment. “Rhino translo­ca­tions also have ma­jor wel­fare con­sid­er­a­tions and I dread to think of the suf­fer­ing that these poor an­i­mals en­dured be­fore they died.”

Trans­port­ing wildlife is a strat­egy used by con­ser­va­tion­ists to help build up, or even bring back, an­i­mal pop­u­la­tions. In May, six black rhi­nos were moved from South Africa to Chad, restor­ing the species to the coun­try in north-cen­tral Africa nearly half a cen­tury af­ter it was wiped out there.

Kenya trans­ported 149 rhi­nos be­tween 2005 and 2017 with eight deaths, the wildlife min­istry re­ported.

Ac­cord­ing to WWF, black rhino pop­u­la­tions de­clined dra­mat­i­cally in the 20th cen­tury, mostly at the hands of Euro­pean hunters and set­tlers. Be­tween 1960 and 1995 num­bers dropped by 98 per cent, to fewer than 2,500.

Since then the species has re­bounded, al­though it re­mains ex­tremely threat­ened. In ad­di­tion to poach­ing the an­i­mals also face habi­tat loss.

African Parks, a Jo­han­nes­burg-based con­ser­va­tion group, said ear­lier this year that there are fewer than 25,000 rhi­nos in the African wild, of which about 20 per cent are black rhi­nos and the rest white rhi­nos.

In an­other ma­jor set­back for con­ser­va­tion, the last re­main­ing male north­ern white rhino on the planet died in March in Kenya, leav­ing con­ser­va­tion­ists strug­gling to save that sub­species us­ing in vitro fer­til­iza­tion.


A black rhino walks at the Ma­sai Mara Na­tional Re­serve of Kenya.

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