Team to investigate rhino deaths set up; expected to give report in a week's time: CS Balala

Rangers work to push a one of the rhinos that were relocated to the new Tsavo East rhino sanctuary last week from the Nairobi National Park on June 2, 2018. [File, Standard]
Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala has now constituted a team to investigate the deaths of endangered Black Rhinos that were recently translocated to Tsavo East National Park from Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks.

In a statement issued yesterday, Balala said that the Ministry has directed for thorough investigation into the matter that involves death of nine black rhinos.

The investigation team composed of an external and independent team will consist of senior officer from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, senior officer from the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, a Professor from the University of Nairobi, senior veterinary from Agriculture and a senior IUCN Rhino specialist.

"The investigations team is expected to investigate all the aspects involved in the translocation exercise and remit a detailed report to the CS by July 23, 2018,'' Balala who overflew the Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo on Tuesday said.

The CS further directed that the 18 Rhino horns with transmitters and chips be brought to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters in Nairobi and from where they would be availed for viewing by
the Media and other interested parties.

Balala maintained that Rhino translocation and immobilization for various management purposes in Kenya has been a success story with low death rates over the years.

The CS noted that between 2005 and 2017, one hundred and forty nine (149) rhinos have been translocated with eight (8) deaths.

Between July 2017 and February 2018, 74 rhinos have been immobilized for ear-notching and only one death was recorded.

Several hundreds have also been successfully immobilized for clinical interventions.

The capture and translocation of these particular rhinos started on June 26,, 2018 with the first batch of three rhinos (2 females and 1 male) captured at Nairobi National Park translocated successfully to Tsavo and held in Bomas at the sanctuary for acclimatization.

The second capture was also successfully conducted on June 29, 2018 with a batch of three more rhinos (2 females and 1 male) having been captured, followed by two others (a male and a female) on Monday July 2, 2018 at Nairobi National Park and held in Bomas for

On July 5, 2018 three rhinos (2 males and 1 female) were captured at Lake Nakuru National Park and again successfully translocated to Tsavo East National Park the same day and released into the

The CS added that while in the Boma, they were fed on fresh browse, supplemented with lucerne and sugarcane. The animals were then provided with adequate water from the newly-sank boreholes.

However, on July 2, 2018, Balala said, one of the males was observed to be restless, taking excessive water and recumbent, while lying on the side later in the evening.

Attempts to make it stand were futile as it showed signs of weakness in the fore limbs.

A decision was made to move it out of the Boma and place it under a nearby shade, where supportive treatment, including intravenous fluids, was administered.

 The animal showed some signs of improvement, but refused to take water or feed. It died on July 3, 2018 at around 5pm and a postmortem was conducted on the morning of July 4, 2018.

On July 3, 2018, another rhino in the Boma started showing similar signs and was released together with another one that looked a little dull.

The other three rhinos were released from the Boma early on the morning of July 4, 2018 to prevent further deaths.

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

KWS stated that these findings are consistent with cases of salt poisoning in other animal species and were exemplified by postmortem findings.

These deaths are unprecedented in KWS operations and have necessitated independent investigations,
which are now underway.

Prof. Peter Gathumbi, a Senior Veterinary Pathologist from the Department of Veterinary Pathology,
Microbiology and Parasitology, University of Nairobi, travelled to Tsavo to carry out independent
investigations, where he collected samples on July 12, 2018 for analysis.

His report is expected to be ready on July 23, 2018.

Balala added that Dr. Markus Hofmeyer, a Senior Wildlife Veterinarian from South Africa, who is an expert in rhino medicine, capture and translocation has been invited and is expected next week to assess the translocation process.

The whole translocation was a KWS initiative to move rhinos from one of their parks to another for the purpose of wildlife population management.

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Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet SecretaryNajib BalalaTsavo East National ParkBlack RhinosKenya Wildlife ServiceNairobi National Park