Tragic news from East Africa this afternoon as the government of Kenya confirmed that eight critically endangered black rhinos have died after being relocated from Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks to the newly-created sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park.
As per an official statement, Hon. Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife has directed the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to immediately suspend the ongoing translocation of black rhinos following the recent deaths.
Preliminary investigations by KWS veterinary teams attribute the deaths to salt poisoning as a result of drinking water of high salinity on arrival in their new environment.
These findings are consistent with cases of salt poisoning in other animal species, indicating a challenge in the translocated of rhinos adapting to the change from fresh water to saline water in their new sanctuary.
The high salt levels lead to dehydration that triggers the thirst mechanism, resulting in excess water intake of the saline water that further exacerbates the problem.
The dead rhinos were among 11 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. A total of 14 rhinos had been planned to be translocated.
In the meantime, the three remaining rhinos are being closely monitored by veterinary and park management teams and are being provided with fresh water in temporary water pans.
“We will make the investigation results public as soon as we receive them,” noted Balala’s statement. “Disciplinary action will definitely be taken if the findings point towards negligence or unprofessional misconduct on the part of any KWS officers.”
Rhino translocation and immobilization for various management purposes in Kenya, has been for the most part successful, with very low mortality rates over the years.
Between 2005 and 2017, 149 rhinos have been translocated with eight 8 mortalities, excluding the current deaths.
This kind of mortality rate is unprecedented.
It is estimated that there are less than 5,500 black rhinos in the world, the majority of them in Africa with approximately 750 left in Kenya.
WAN joins animal advocates everywhere in mourning this unfathomable and monumental loss of lives.
May the sweet black rhinos rest in peace and may the remaining animals be spared.