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8 endangered black rhinos die in Kenya after relocation

Investigations say the animals could not adapt to the saltier water in new home

July 13, 2018 10:10 pm | Updated 10:12 pm IST - Nairobi

 A female black rhino stands in a box before being taken from the Nairobi National Park last month.

A female black rhino stands in a box before being taken from the Nairobi National Park last month.

Eight critically endangered black rhinos are dead in Kenya following an attempt to move them from the capital to a national park hundreds of kilometres away, the Kenyan government said on Friday, calling the toll “unprecedented” in more than a decade of such transfers.

Preliminary investigations point to salt poisoning as the rhinos tried to adapt to saltier water in their new home, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said in a statement. It suspended the ongoing move of other rhinos and said the surviving ones were being closely monitored.

Losing the rhinos is “a complete disaster”, said prominent Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect. Conservationists in Africa have been working hard to protect the black rhino sub-species from poachers targeting them for their horns to supply an illegal Asian market.

In moving a group of 11 rhinos to the newly created Tsavo East National Park from Nairobi last month, the Kenya Wildlife Service said it hoped to boost the population there.

“Disciplinary action will definitely be taken” if an investigation into the deaths indicates negligence by agency staff, the Wildlife Ministry said.

“Moving rhinos is complicated, akin to moving gold bullion, it requires extremely careful planning and security due to the value of these rare animals,” Ms. Kahumbu said in a statement. “Rhino translocations also have major welfare considerations and I dread to think of the suffering that these poor animals endured before they died.”

Transporting wildlife is a strategy used by conservationists to help build up, or even bring back, animal populations.

In May, six black rhinos were moved from South Africa to Chad, restoring the species to the country in north-central Africa nearly half a century after it was wiped out there.

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