KWS Acting Director demoted over rhino deaths

Tourism CS Najib Balala who has suspended top KWS scientists and wardens after10 out 14 rhinos translocated to a Tsavo East National Park sanctuary died. (Photo: Courtesy)
Nairobi, Kenya: Tourism CS Najib Balala has demoted acting Director General Dr Julius Kimani and replaced him with Dr Charles Musyoki who was in charge of Kenya Wildlife Service training institute in Naivasha.

Dr Kimani returns to his previous position as head of parks and reserves.

The drastic changes come in the wake of the deaths of 10 out of the 14 rhinos translocated from Nakuru and Nairobi national parks to a 100-square kilometre sanctuary at Tsavo East.

The latest death occurred today.

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In the sweeping changes, Balala suspended top Kenya Wildlife Service scientists and wardens. According to Mr Balala, among the affected were Dr Samwel Kasiki who was the Deputy Director Bio-diversity and chief scientist. He has been replaced by Dr Patrick Mondi from the parent ministry. 

Also suspended were Dr Francis Gakuya who was head of veterinary and capture services, Dr Mohamed Omar, head of ecology and Dr Isaac Leekolol, a senior vet.

Tsavo senior scientist Fredrick Lala and senior warden Felix Mwangagi were also affected.

Balala also abolished the post of Chief Operating Officer currently held by Nehemiah Rotich and that of advisor held by Mark Jenkins.

In a high profile function Kenya Wildlife Services translocated 14 Rhinos from Lake Nakuru and Nairobi National Parks in June, 2018.  Their new home was the Tsavo East National Park. Hardly three weeks after the exercise, eight of the Rhinos were reported dead, kicking up a stink in conservation and tourism circles.

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KWS had explained that the animals had died after drinking saline water.

Conservationists then demanded an investigation into the cause of deaths.

A skeptical public would force KWS to display 18 horns to disapprove speculation that the rhinos had been killed by poachers.

In a press statement Mr Balala said he had appointed a team to investigate the deaths of the highly poached and therefore endangered mammals.

The team’s mandate was to establish the circumstances under which the rhinos died after arriving and being released in the Tsavo East National Park Rhino Sanctuary.

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The team included; 1 Mr. Benson Omondi Samson (Assistant Superintendent of Police, Criminal Investigation and Chairperson of the Inquiry Team);  Prof. Peter Karuri Gathumbi (Professor of Veterinary Pathology, University of Nairobi); Dr. Kuria Gachungia (Officer in Charge Pathology lab, Directorate of Veterinary Services)  and Dr. David Zimmerman (Senior Veterinary Manager, Veterinary Services of SanParks);

Others were Dr. Patrick Omondi (Ag. Director, Research & Innovation, State Department for Wildlife); and Chief Inspector of Police Peter Thiane Kilemi (In charge Criminal Intelligence Bureau, Eastern Bureau.

“The loss of the nine rhinos in a protected area arising from an exercise run by Kenya Wildlife Service, with the support of partners, has shocked the Nation, the Global Conservation World and, more importantly, even the KWS staff themselves,” read Mr Balala’s statement.

 He said the former KWS Board of Trustees had, “for the record, approved the translocation of the rhinos to Tsavo East subject to the timing and monitoring of the water supply for suitability at the time of the translocation.”

 According to the Inquiry team, Mr Balala added, “the cause of all the deaths was due to multiple stress syndrome intensified by salt poisoning and complicated by the following conditions: dehydration, starvation, proliferation of opportunistic bacteria in upper respiratory tract (Pasteurella species), gastric ulcers and gastritis.”

 The independent inquiry he said, “further showed there were areas of clear negligence that occurred post translocation at the release site in Tsavo, especially in the holding BOMA at the sanctuary. These included poor co-ordination and communication among officers that were responsible for pre-translocation studies, including biomass assessments; environmental impact assessments and water quality assessments.”

 The statement says “the results of the water assessments were hardly considered before execution of the operation” and that the investigators found unacceptable professional negligence among the following officers, who are forthwith suspended pending further disciplinary action to be taken as appropriate by the Board of KWS.”

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CS Najib Balalablack rhino deathsTsavo East