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Black rhinos die after relocation to national park in Kenya

July 13, 2018

The Kenyan government said the death of eight black rhinos was "unprecedented" in more than a decade of such transfers. The black rhino is critically endangered, with just over 5,000 remaining worldwide.

A black rhino
Image: Imago/Chromorange

Eight critically endangered black rhinos have died in Kenya after being transported from the capital, Nairobi, to a new national park in the country's south, the government said Friday.

Kenya's Tourism and Wildlife Minister Najib Balala ordered the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to "immediately suspend the ongoing translocation of black rhinos following the death of eight of them," according to a ministry statement.

The surviving animals in the new park are being closely monitored.

Read more: Botswana's rhinos make a comeback

The ministry said preliminary investigations had pointed to salt poisoning as the suspected cause of death. The animals likely became dehydrated and drank more salty water in a fatal cycle, the ministry explained.

A map showing worldwide rhino population

Relocation carries risks

Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu of Kenyan-US wildlife organization WildlifeDirect said the loss was "a complete disaster."

Read more: Meet the Black Mambas

"Moving rhinos is complicated, akin to moving gold bullion, it requires extremely careful planning and security due to the value of these rare animals," 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."

The relocation of endangered animals involves putting them to sleep during transit and then reviving them in a process which poses some risks.

Kenya transported 149 rhinos between 2005 and 2017 with eight deaths, the wildlife ministry said.

Read more: Should we bring extinct species back from the dead?

Botswana's rhinos make a comeback

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the number of black rhinos fell dramatically in the 20th century, mostly as a result of European hunters and settlers. Between 1960 and 1995 numbers decreased by 98 percent, to less than than 2,500. Conservation efforts have seen that number rise to more than 5,000 in the world today.

Read more: Can IVF save the last white rhinos?

The animals continue to face challenges such as poaching for their horns and habitat loss.

The world's last remaining male northern white rhino died in March this year in Kenya, meaning conservationists have no option but to attempt to save that sub-species using in vitro fertilization.

law/sms (AFP, AP)