Eight critically endangered black rhinoceroses died in a failed bid to relocate them to a new home, ABC News is reporting.
Last month, government officials began moving 11 rhinos from captivity in Nairobi to the newly-created Tsavo East National Park, in a bid to allow the protected animals to thrive there. Unfortunately, mistakes were made along the way, and officials failed to take into account the difference in salinity in the waters of the animals’ new home. The water in the national park is saltier than what the rhinos were used to, causing the animals to get dehydrated, which in turn caused them to drink more of the overly-salty water. The “vicious cycle” killed them.
The surviving rhinos are being closely monitored.
Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect called the failure a “complete disaster” for efforts to save the species, hunted nearly to extinction by poachers. Meanwhile, authorities are promising disciplinary action against the officials who orchestrated the move.
Kahumbu said that the animals were moved without proper care.
“Moving rhinos is complicated, akin to moving gold bullion, 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.”
Moving endangered animals from place to place is a tool used by conservationists to help endangered animals bounce back and even thrive. The reasons for this are varied, from keeping them ahead of poachers, to introducing animals in captivity back into the wild, to putting them in more suitable habitats. In May, for example, six black rhinos were moved from Kenya to Chad, where they had last been seen in the wild 50 years prior.
In fact, Kenya moved a total of 149 black rhinos between 2005 and 2017, with eight animals dying.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, only about between 5,042 and 5,455 black rhinos remain today. That’s actually good news, considering that 20 years ago their numbers had dropped to less than 2,500. European trophy hunters can take the blame, but there is also the problem of folk medicine: their horns, which are made entirely of keratin (the same substance that your fingernails are made from), are considered useful in folk medicine. That makes the rhinos’ horns valuable to poachers.
Another rhino species, the northern white rhino, has all but gone extinct. This year, the last surviving male died, leaving only a handful of females. Conservationists hope they can save the species through in-vitro fertilization.