The translocation that went wrong

The government has suspended any further translocation of rhinos after eight of them died after they were immobilised and taken from Nakuru National Park to Tsavo.

Kenya Wildlife Service had maintained studious silence several hours after the tragedy -hoping to cover-up the matter, according to sources.

But yesterday Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife directed the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to immediately suspend the ongoing translocation.

KWS says that preliminary investigations by its veterinary teams attribute the deaths to salt poisoning as a result of taking water of high salinity on arrival in the new environment.

“These findings are consistent with cases of salt poisoning in other animal species, indicating a challenge in the translocated rhinos’ adaptation to the change from fresh water to saline water in the sanctuary,” said a statement from the ministry.

“The high salt levels lead to dehydration that triggers thirst mechanism, resulting in excess water intake of the saline water that further exacerbates the problem.”

Why this was not foreseen before the translocation amounts to negligence on the part of KWS.

“Disciplinary action will definitely be taken, if the findings point towards negligence or unprofessional misconduct on the part of any KWS officers,” promised Mr Balala.

The ministry has invited Prof. Peter Gathumbi, a Senior Veterinary Pathologist from University of Nairobi, to Tsavo to carry out independent investigations. He has already collected collected samples and would present his report in a week’s time.

Prof Peter Gathumbi

The mortality rate witnessed in Tsavo is unprecedented in KWS operations.The eight 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.

“We have also sought input from Dr. Markus Hoffmeyer, a Wildlife Conservationist, Rhino Veterinarian and translocation expert from South Africa, ” said the ministry.
Meanwhile, the four remaining rhinos are being closely monitored by veterinary and park management teams and are being provided with fresh water in temporary water pans.

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