First published on Yahoo
Kenyan wildlife experts are demanding answers after the unprecedented deaths in transit of eight critically endangered rhinos, in an accident described as being “a disaster for the world”. Fourteen animals were being transported to a new reserve, Tsavo East, in southern Kenya from their homes in Nairobi and Lake Nakuru national parks. Such transfers, involving the sedation and moving by land of the animals, are not unusual. However, with around 700 left in the whole country, transportation is a delicate affair – and the deaths of the eight animals means that one per cent of the entire population has been wiped out in one week. Dr Paula Kahumbu, a Kenyan wildlife conservationist and CEO of the WildlifeDirect, said it was astonishing that such catastrophic mistakes could be made, in a country so used to caring for its rhinos. “It’s a disaster – a disaster not just for Kenya, but for the world,” she told The Telegraph.“These animals have been protected for decades by rangers. So for them to die like this is incredibly alarming. And I’m very surprised we haven’t been told yet what happened.” Rhino population figures Najib Balala, Kenya's tourism and wildlife minister, ordered the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to "immediately suspend the ongoing translocation of black rhinos following the death of eight of them," according to a ministry statement. But the KWS has not commented on the deaths, and the loss of so many in one go is unprecedented. Between 2005 and 2017 a total of 149 rhinos have been moved in this way, with eight deaths. Mr Balala said that "preliminary investigations" suggested the rhinos may have died of "salt poisoning" after drinking different water in their new environment. He said the animals likely became dehydrated and drank more salty water, in a fatal cycle. A full report is due to be produced next week, the ministry said, adding "disciplinary action will definitely be taken, if the findings point towards negligence or un-professional conduct on the part of any KWS officers." At a glance | Rhinos Dr Kahumbu said it was vital to find out quickly what went wrong, to avoid future problems. She said animals have been known to die in the past from problems with food, water or the drugs for sedation. Dr Kahumbu said officials must take responsibility and explain what went wrong, and quickly. "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." Save the Rhinos estimates there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world, all of them in Africa. According to KWS figures, nine rhinos were killed in Kenya last year by poachers. 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 sub-species using in vitro fertilization.