In­quiry as eight of 14 rhi­nos die af­ter move in Kenya

The Guardian - - NEWS - San­dra Lav­ille and agen­cies

Eight out of 14 crit­i­cally en­dan­gered black rhi­nos have died af­ter be­ing moved to a re­serve in south­ern Kenya, wildlife of­fi­cials have re­vealed, in what one con­ser­va­tion­ist de­scribed as a “com­plete dis­as­ter”.

Pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tions pointed to salt poi­son­ing as the rhi­nos tried to adapt to saltier wa­ter in their new home, the Kenyan Min­istry of Tourism and Wildlife said. It sus­pended the mov­ing of other rhi­nos and said the sur­vivors were be­ing closely mon­i­tored.

Save the Rhino es­ti­mates there are fewer than 5,500 black rhi­nos in the world, all of them in Africa, while Kenya’s black rhino pop­u­la­tion stands at 750, ac­cord­ing to the World Wide Fund for Na­ture.

Los­ing the rhi­nos was “a com­plete dis­as­ter”, said the prom­i­nent Kenyan con­ser­va­tion­ist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect.

Cathy Dean, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Save the Rhino, said she was shocked and sad­dened. She called for ex­ter­nal ex­perts to be called in to carry out an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what went wrong, with the find­ings pub­lished in full.

Dean said the scale of the deaths from the re­lo­ca­tion of en­dan­gered an­i­mals – known as translo­ca­tion – was greater than rhino fa­tal­i­ties caused by poach­ing so far this year in Kenya.

The translo­ca­tion in­volves putting them to sleep for the jour­ney and re­viv­ing them in a process that car­ries risks. How­ever, the loss of more than half the to­tal is highly un­usual. The rhi­nos were moved from the Nairobi and Lake Nakuru na­tional parks to a new sanc­tu­ary cre­ated in Tsavo East na­tional park in an op­er­a­tion an­nounced by Na­jib Balala, the Kenyan tourism min­is­ter, and car­ried out in col­lab­o­ra­tion with WWF Kenya.

“The eight dead rhi­nos were among those that had been moved to the sanc­tu­ary in an ini­tia­tive to start a new pop­u­la­tion in line with the na­tional rhino con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment strat­egy,” the min­istry said. “This kind of mor­tal­ity rate is un­prece­dented in Kenya Wildlife Ser­vice op­er­a­tions.”

It was the first time since the 1990s that black rhi­nos had been moved to Tsavo East, which had a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 2,000, ac­cord­ing to Save the Rhino, but now has be­tween 10 and 20.

Kahumbu said of­fi­cials must take re­spon­si­bil­ity and ex­plain what went wrong. “Rhi­nos have died. We have to say it openly when it hap­pens, not a week later or a month later,” she said. “Some­thing must have gone wrong, and we want to know what it is.”

Kenya wants to in­crease its black rhino pop­u­la­tion to 2,000 by cre­at­ing pop­u­la­tions in ar­eas that pro­vide the right habi­tat for the an­i­mals to thrive.

Dean said translo­ca­tion was not as com­mon in Kenya as in other south­ern African coun­tries such as Namibia.

“In Kenya, they do it every three to four years, whereas other coun­tries are do­ing them every year,” she said.

“There needs to be a post­mortem and we need to look at the whole pro­to­col for translo­ca­tion.”

The min­istry said it had in­vited an ex­pert from South Africa to join its in­ves­ti­ga­tion and if neg­li­gence was found to be a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor dis­ci­plinary ac­tion would be taken. “We will make the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sults pub­lic as soon as we re­ceive them,” it said.

‘Rhi­nos have died. Some­thing must have gone wrong and we want to know what it is’ Paula Kahumbu Con­ser­va­tion­ist

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TONY KARUMBA/AFP/GETTY≠

One of the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered black rhi­nos in a trans­port crate in Nairobi

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