Balala blamed for death of rhinos at Tsavo park

Rangers help a rhino stand up. It was among the 11 rhinos that were relocated to the new Tsavo rhino sanctuary last year from the Nairobi National Park. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]

MPs have blamed Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala for the death of 11 rhinos during relocation in August last year.

In a report, the National Assembly Committee on Environment and Natural Resources found that Mr Balala was responsible for errors that led to the botched operation.

The rhinos consumed saline water which killed them. One of Balala’s errors, according to the committee, was failure to appoint a new board of trustees at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

This, according to the MPs, created a vacuum where no one was around to offer policy direction.

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“The Cabinet secretary Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism should take overall responsibility for the botched translocation exercise, since he delayed in the appointment of a new board of trustees at KWS,” the committee chaired by Kareke Mbiuki noted.

“The board would have offered policy direction and guidance to the management. In its absence, the ministry had the overall responsibility over KWS operations, including the translocation exercise.”

Also indicted alongside Balala is the then Principal Secretary for Wildlife Margaret Mwakema.

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In the report, the committee said Ms Mwakema should “take responsibility for failure to put in place proper mechanisms to oversee the translocation exercise.”

The MPs in their report have also recommended that two officials at KWS be investigated - the then head of ecological services and head of veterinary and capture services.

They said both officials withheld information that could have aided in decision making during the exercise.

New home

The rhinos died at a sanctuary in Tsavo National Park as they were being moved to a new home.

Wildlife conservationists across the world were angered by the deaths.

What was to be a routine operation turned into one of the greatest setbacks for conservation efforts in the country.

A report at the time said the rhinos died due to “multiple stress syndrome intensified by salty conditions.”

They were also starving and dehydrated, and had been attacked by opportunistic bacteria.

The MPs report has also shone a spotlight on the role of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the whole debacle.

They noted WWF pressurised KWS to move the rhinos against advice from former KWS board members.

“The committee noted that WWF had no legal mandate to pressure a Government entity to act outside laid down procedures,” the report said.

When he appeared before the committee, former KWS boss Richard Leakey said WWF was keen on the operation “to expend donor funding meant for the translocation exercise.”

When Balala himself appeared before the MPs, he was at pains to explain how some of the country’s most prized wildlife could disappear within such a short time.

Other blunders

Balala defended himself, saying he was in Canada during the translocation and he suspended it after learning of the rhinos’ deaths.

The committee in its investigations discovered many other blunders that claimed the animals’ lives.

It noted, for example, that some staff were deployed in roles they were not qualified for, and that there was poor communication during the exercise.

The head of ecological monitoring was also exposed to be a marine scientist, an ill-fitting qualification for his role.

Matters were worsened by what the committee noted was use of outdated translocation guidelines.

The MPs want disciplinary action taken against all KWS officers who failed in their duties. It has also recommended a job evaluation for all officers to align their qualifications with their job descriptions.

The report will be debated by lawmakers who could approve or reject its recommendations.

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Nairobi National ParkCabinet Secretary Najib Balala