Updated: Aug 5, 2018
By Cheyenne Johnson, Managing Editor
“It’s a major step back,” Cathy Dean, chief executive of Save the Rhino, told National Geographic.
The rhinos were part of a conservation effort in Kenya to transport the animals from Nairobi National Park and Nakuru National Park to Tsavo East National Park. Officials hoped that the initial group of 11 would serve to bolster the population at Tsavo East National Park, but only 3 survived the journey.
Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarians stated that the animals died due to salt poisoning. The salt content of the water at Tsavo is much higher than that at their previous location, and the rhino's died from the shock shortly after drinking it, according to a statement issued by Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
“It’s surprising," Kahumbu wrote on her Facebook page, "because [Kenya Wildlife Service] has conducted many successful large scale translocations of rhinos before. Losing one in 15 is an acceptable loss—but never have we seen such huge losses."
The smaller of the two African species, black rhino populations declined dramatically in the 20th century, dropping 98% between 1960 and 1995. While the global conservation efforts have led to population increases, the animal remains critically endangered with an estimated 5,455 alive today. While poaching remains the largest threat to these animals, their low population levels mean any loss is a tragic one.
“Moving rhinos is complicated, akin to moving gold bullion," said Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect. "It requires extremely careful planning and security due to the value of these rare animals. Rhino translocations also have major welfare considerations, and I dread to think of the suffering that these poor animals endured before they died.”
Kenya Wildlife Service noted that “this kind of mortality rate is unprecedented." Only eight of the 149 rhinos translocated by the Kenyan government over the last 13 years have died during or after transport.
An investigation is ongoing into the incident and government officials have stated that
“disciplinary action will definitely be taken, if the findings point towards negligence or unprofessional misconduct on the part of any [Kenya Wildlife Service] officers.”
The three surviving rhinos are being closely monitored and provided fresh water. A plan to translocate three more rhinos to the park has since been suspended.