In a failed attempt to support the breeding of endangered rhinoceros in Kenya, eight black rhinos died while being relocated to another National Park. Preliminary findings suggest the rhinos might have died due to salt poisoning.

Black Rhino Deaths

A week after the failed transfer attempt, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife announced that eight of the 11 translocated rhinos have died. The rhinos were transferred from the Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks and onto a new sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park in an attempt to boost the species’ population.

According to preliminary investigations, the rhinos possibly died from salt poisoning as a result of the higher saline content in the water compared to that which they were accustomed to. Evidently, the rhinos faced a challenge when it came to the change from fresh water to saline water in the new sanctuary, and the high salt levels led them to dehydration. This caused the creatures to drink even more of the saline water, thereby exacerbating the problem.

Investigation Underway

The deaths were called “unprecedented” by Cabinet Secretary Hon. Najib Balala, as many similar translocations have been done over the years with little mortality. In fact, between the years of 2005 and 2017, there were a total of eight deaths in the 149 rhinos that were translocated.

The remaining rhinos are currently being given fresh water from temporary pans, and further investigations on the deaths are already underway. According to the Ministry statement, disciplinary action will be taken if any misconduct or negligence is proven.

“This is a major conservation tragedy, not just for Kenya but for all rhinos,” said conservation group Wildlife Direct in a statement, also expressing the hope that such unfortunate events will not happen again.

Black Rhino Population

European settlers and hunters were a major cause of the decline in black rhino populations in the 20th century, and in the years between 1960 and 1995, black rhino populations dropped by a staggering 98 percent. This left the species’ population at below 2,500, but conservation efforts helped the species to bounce back in the last 20 years. Today, there are over 5,000 black rhinos, but they are still considered critically endangered, which is why even more efforts are being done to save the species.

Of the threats that the species is facing, poaching remains to be the most dangerous, especially with the high demand for horn in countries like China and Vietnam where it is used for various remedies. Habitat loss is also a major factor in the dwindling rhino populations, as their populations become more dense in smaller and more isolated areas where disease can be transmitted more easily, and inbreeding can cause genetic problems.

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