In Summary
  • Relocation covers the entire process from planning, transfer, release, monitoring and post-release management of the animals.
  • UK-based conservationist Kate Whittington, lack of careful analysis of environmental and ecological factors is to blame for questionable success rates.
  • In May this year, Kenya had 745 black rhinos, the third highest population in the world.

Eleven black rhinos. Millions of donor shillings. Tens of rangers. And a new sanctuary.

The death of the tenth rhino this week blew the lid off on the debacle that was the transfer of the animals from Nairobi and Nakuru to Tsavo East National Park.

The events at Kenya’s largest park will go down in history as the most costly blunder in the conservation of endangered species.

A committee formed two weeks ago reported that highly saline water, dehydration, starvation and bacterial attack were responsible for the deaths.

The eleventh rhino was reported to be nursing injuries following a lion attack.

FIRING LINE

Black rhinos are critically endangered and the loss of the 10 has put Tourism CS Najib Balala in the firing line.

When the CS suspended six senior officials in charge of the relocation and demoted KWS Director-General Julius Kimani on Thursday, it was the climax of the fiasco.

Those suspended are Dr Samuel Kasiki who was in charge of biodiversity and research, Mr Francis Gakuya who headed veterinary and capture services, Dr Isaac Leekolol who was head of capture services, Tsavo East senior warden Felix Mwangagi, Dr Mohammed Omar who was in charge of ecological and monitoring services and Mr Frederick Odock, a senior scientist.

Mr Balala, however, absolved the ministry from blame, arguing that a fully autonomous technical team is responsible for the programme that is funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

HUGE SPACE

“How it (translocation) is done, when, by who it is done goes to the technical issues, handled by the institution (KWS) itself,” he said in a TV interview last week.

Biologists consider translocation as an effective strategy of managing animal species to curtail the risk of extinction.

Black rhinos are territorial animals and require huge space.

Kenya Rhino Programme Coordinator and KWS senior ranger Linus Kariuki says translocation of wildlife is complex.

“Relocation covers the entire process from planning, transfer, release, monitoring and post-release management of the animals,” he said.

WIPED OUT

According to UK-based conservationist Kate Whittington, lack of careful analysis of environmental and ecological factors is to blame for questionable success rates.

“Finding a replacement habitat might seem simple, but there are other factors related to a species’ well-being that may make survival at new sites a challenge,” she said.

Mr Kariuki said the choice of Tsavo was informed by historical factors.

“Tsavo had the highest concentration of rhinos, about 800 animals, before poaching nearly wiped them out,” he said.

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