The Last of 11 endangered black rhinos has died in a conservation attempt in Kenya

The last surviving black rhino of the 11 translocated to the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya has died, conservationists confirmed 7 August. The rhino is believed to have died from injuries after it was attacked by a pride of lions about a fortnight ago, during translocation from the Nairobi and Nakuru national parks to Tsavo East. The other 10 rhinos died in quick succession just days after being moved as a result of what investigations say was intake of salty water and starvation.

Known as translocation, this process of shifting endangered wildlife species from one area to another is, more often than not, aimed at boosting depleting populations of these species.

Poachers have long been massacring black rhinos for their horns, which is known to fetch good money in the black market. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that less than 5,400 of the subspecies are alive today, attributing the alarming decline in population, mainly, to poaching. Loss of habitat is another reason for the declining numbers, says WWF. Kenya is home to 750 of the remaining rhinos.

After the deaths of the first 8, WildlifeDirect CEO Paula Kahumbu, who is also a National Geographic explorer, called it “a major conservation tragedy,” writing on her Facebook page that with the kind of experience the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has in undertaking “large scale translocations of rhinos,” a loss as great as this was perplexing.

A probe team reported that the rhinos had suffered Multiple Stress Syndrome fuelled by the uptake of saline water at the Tsavo, which triggered acute dehydration leading to their deaths. The death has exposed negligence of proportional magnitude on the part of the KWS with a probe into the ten previous deaths released on 26 July citing professional negligence.

“The independent inquiry shows that there were areas of clear negligence that occurred at the Tsavo which include poor conditioning, poor coordination, and poor communication by KWS staff at the Tsavo,” Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala disclosed when he unveiled the report.

Following the presentation of the report by a six-member inquiry team led by Benson Omondi, an officer from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Balala suspended six KWS officers for negligence. Among those suspended was the service’s Deputy Director in-charge of Biodiversity, Research and Monitoring, Samuel Kasiki, who according to a report tabled by the six-member probe team, failed to coordinate research-line departments at the KWS leading to poor decision-making ahead of the translocation.

A Kenya Wildlife Service translocation team rolls a sedated female black rhinoceros into a safe position before loading the animal into a transport crate ahead of the ill-fated journey to the Tsavo East sanctuary. Photo: JAMES KAHONGEH | NMG

According to Capital FM Kenya, the drilling company was reported to have advised the park management to undertake continuous pumping so as to monitor the salinity levels in the two boreholes ahead of the relocation of the rhinos — eight from the Nairobi National Park and six from the Nakuru National Park — advice KWS officers managing the translocation overlooked. The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife has dismissed claims by former KWS’ board Chairperson Richard Leakey who on 27 July said the panel had advised against the relocation of the rhinos.

It has been about four months since Sudan, a northern white Rhino who happened to be the last male of his subspecies, was lost to age-related complications. News of the death of the 45-year old rhino reverberated across the world.

Between 2005 and 2017, the Kenyan wildlife ministry has transported 149 rhinos with only eight deaths, according to the Associated Press. With the 11 translocated animals now dead, it is not clear what will happen next, however, according to Reuters, the Kenyan government has launched an independent investigation into the black rhino deaths.