Insiders say rhinos were victims of turf wars

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) personnel load a tranquillised female black rhino in to a box during a rhino translocation exercise In the Nairobi National Park, Kenya, June 26, 2018. (Courtesy)
Fresh details that the 10 endangered rhinos that died at Tsavo East National Park were poisoned have emerged.

Sources at the park ruled out findings released by Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala that said the animals died because they consumed saline water.

They said it beats logic that rhinos at Tsavo East would suddenly be affected by saline water, yet the ones at Tsavo West are in good health. They added that the ecosystem is the same, and if rhinos were to be affected by salinity, then it would not be in select parks. They also found it odd that only rhinos would be affected by saline water in an ecosystem shared by other species.

Intense fights

The officials pointed fingers at what they termed as constant wrangles and disagreements between management at KWS and wildlife conversation organisations that have infiltrated the wildlife sector. “The death of the rhinos is pure sabotage. These groups have been fighting, so the rhinos were killed to prove a point,” said one official.

The unprecedented deaths have now degenerated into an endless blame game by conservationists. Yesterday, Balala blamed and suspended six KWS officials accusing them of negligence. He said that they did not do assessments before moving the animals. “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 suspension was followed by an uproar from the Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA), which questioned validity of the research. Through its chairman Dr Kahariri Samuel, KVA said David Zimmerman who was part of veterinarians who compiled the report is not registered to practise in Kenya and his findings can only be treated as those of a layman. Zimmerman is a South African veterinarian and was appointed by Balala to help with investigations.

“If there is any professional negligence on the part of veterinarian, it can only be handled by the Kenya Veterinary Board, which is by law mandated to regulate the veterinary professionals,” said Dr Kahariri. Tsavo East Senior Warden Felix Mwangangi, who was suspended said he was not involved in the investigations, and was only informed of the cause of death by the ministry. 

World Wildlife Fund-Kenya, the organisation that partnered with KWS in the rhino translocation has also been dragged into the controversy as questions are being raised on how they got into the deal that was reported to have cost about Sh100 million.

Martin Mulama, programme coordinator of rhinos at WWF says they came in as funders of the project, and had no reason to doubt KWS who had assured them that suitability tests had been done. “This was an ongoing project. We had worked with them before and they even gave records to show tests had been done,” he said.

Earmarked herd

Researchers questioned why the translocation was conducted before an environmental study. “Before translocation, assessment should be conducted on food and water availability in the new area. A few numbers of the earmarked herd is often moved and monitored for a few days to ascertain their condition before the other herd is translocated,” said Researcher and Conservationist David Thuo.

Dr Richard Leakey, former chairman of KWS board of trustees is blaming the Tourism Ministry. He said the board had opposed the translocation because Tsavo East could not sustain the rhinos. 

The translocation was a much publicised charade, but the death has been a hushed affair that came to light after an official leaked the information to media.

During the translocation last month, Balala called it a key milestone in the conservation of the rapidly dwindling black rhino population. The numbers had taken a dive by more than 90 per cent over the last three decades and the only way to ensure they are safe from poachers was to put them in a monitored sanctuary where they could reproduce and meet the state’s target of having 830 rhinos by 2021, up from the existing 745. 

We are undertaking a survey to help us improve our content for you. This will only take 1 minute of your time, please give us your feedback by clicking HERE. All responses will be confidential.

Tsavo East National ParkCS Najib BalalaTourismkwsrhinos