How KWS bungled relocation of black rhinos

Sunday August 12 2018

Black rhinos rest under a tree at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on September 22, 2016. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Plans to relocate black rhinos to the Tsavo East National Park are said to have come up on at least three occasions during the tenure of the Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS) former board of trustees, with the earliest suggestion coming in 2015.

But the board rejected the idea for various ecological and environmental reasons, including lack of pasture due to prolonged drought in the area, and high salinity levels in the area's water.

Also, the sanctuary where the animals were supposed to stay was incomplete.

So the board asked the KWS management to suspend the exercise until conditions at the park improved, and the sanctuary was completed.


A team that inspected the park in December 2017 noted that the only water available was pumped from boreholes to troughs.


The vegetation had improved considerably after it rained in the area, but the water's salinity level remained unchanged.

So it was agreed that the conditions were not appropriate for the relocation.

But KWS was under pressure from donors to relocate the animals.

In February this year, the donors met with KWS to review the suitability of the conditions.

The World Wide Fund for Nature would sponsor the Sh100 million project.


But the board stuck to its guns, arguing that until a scientific analysis established the water's salinity level, it would be risky to move the animals.

But after the board's term expired in June, KWS relocated the animals the same month, against all advice against such a move.

The result was the death of 11 of the 14 black rhinos that were earmarked for relocation to depopulate the Nairobi and Nakuru national parks.

Former KWS Chief Operating Officer Nehemiah Rotich attributed the deaths to “a gross breach of protocol at the wildlife management agency”.

“Suggestions for any operation from the sub-committee on conservation have to pass through the directorate, and subsequently to the board of trustees, for review. If the board approves them, the director-general can execute such a plan,” Mr Rotich said.


He noted that there was neither a board nor a board sub-committee when the relocations were done, raising fundamental queries over the manner in which the relocation was done.

But even more puzzling is who authorised the relocation and what they intended to achieve

Had the conditions at the new sanctuary changed? Only minimally, Mr Rotich said.

“There should have been a presentation showing that the parameters had actually changed. As far as I am concerned there was no such report,” he said.

Six senior KWS officers have since been suspended for negligence, pending investigations.