- Tragic loss of endangered black rhinos thought to be caused by salt poisoning
- Operation aimed to boost species population, but eight of 14 died in transit
- Translocation of endangered animals is risky and involves putting them to sleep
- Conservationists in Kenya demand responsibility be taken after sad news broke
- Death toll is ‘unprecedented’ in more than a decade of such animal transfers
Eight out of 14 critically endangered black rhinos died after being moved to a new reserve in southern Kenya, wildlife officials admitted on Friday.
The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said salt poisoning may have caused the rhinos to perish as they struggled to adapt to saltier water in their new home.
It has suspended the ongoing move of other rhinos with the surviving ones being closely monitored.
Eight critically endangered rhinos died of suspected salt poisoning while being moved from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru in Kenya
The black rhinos were being translocated to Tsavo East National Park in the hope of boosting species population
The relocation of endangered animals involves putting them to sleep for the journey and then reviving them in a process which carries risks.
But the loss of more than half of them is highly unusual.
Prominent Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu said officials must take responsibility and should have explained what went wrong sooner.
‘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.’
It was hoped moving rhinos to the newly created Tsavo East National Park from Nairobi would boost the population there, AP reported.
The wildlife ministry said ‘disciplinary action will definitely be taken’ if an investigation into the deaths indicates negligence by agency staff.
14 black rhinos were moved in all.
The death toll while moving from the capital to a national park hundreds of kilometres away has been labelled ‘unprecedented’ by the government.
‘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 added.
‘Rhino translocations also have major welfare considerations and I dread to think of the suffering that these poor animals endured before they died.’
In transit from two separate locations, eight out of 14 of the endangered black rhinos died while moving to Tsavo East National Park
There are an estimated 5,500 black rhinos in the world, a figure that has rebounded from just 350 that existed when the species was on the brink of extinction in 1983
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 said.
Save the Rhinos estimates there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world, all of them in Africa.
Kenya’s black rhino population stands at 750, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
According to KWS figures, nine rhinos were killed in Kenya last year.
In May, three more were shot dead inside a specially-protected sanctuary in northern Kenya and their horns removed, while in March the last male northern white rhino on earth, an elderly bull named Sudan, was put down by Kenyan vets after falling ill.
The black was on the brink of extinction after a dramatic 98 percent decline in population from 20,000 in 1970 to about 350 in 1983, says WWF.
The decline was caused by escalating illegal poaching for illegal markets in the Middle East and Asia.
Black rhinos are considered critically endangered but its population has rebounded, although the species remains threatened due to poaching and habitat loss.