Former chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) board, Dr Richard Leakey, now wants Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala held culpable for the deaths of 11 rhinos at a sanctuary in Tsavo National Park.
Mr Balala supervised the controversial translocation and a committee he formed to investigate the matter reported that highly saline water, dehydration, starvation and bacterial attack were responsible for the deaths of the black rhinos.
Appearing before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the National Assembly, Dr Leakey and the members of the former board also want Wildlife Principal Secretary Margaret Mwakema and former KWS acting Director-General Julius Kimani to take personal responsibility for the mess termed as a huge setback to the tourism sector.
Dr Leakey told the committee chaired by Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki that Mr Balala, Ms Mwakema and Mr Kimani forced the translocation of the rhinos despite the opposition of the board members based on the salinity levels of the water from the boreholes in the Tsavo sanctuary.
“The Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary and the acting Director-General are responsible. I don’t think they can escape from this because it can’t stop with the veterinary officers or the wardens because they did not attend the meetings that made the decision to move the animals,” Dr Leakey said.
“The animals were thirsty and they drunk and drunk the salty water … it is crazy and very shameful experience to the country,” he said, even as he dismissed the claims by Mr Balala that the board had sought for an extension of its term.
He said that he had requested the president not to renew his term because he is not at the best of his health.
Black rhinos are territorial animals that require enough space and, according to experts, the translocation was considered effective in terms of managing them from the risk of extinction.
In the botched exercise, 14 rhinos were to be moved to the 100 kilometre square conservancy in Tsavo, Kenya’s largest National Park — eight from Nairobi National Park and six from Nakuru.
Consequently, the deaths will go down in history as the most costly blunder in the conservation of the country’s endangered species.
However, the death of the animals saw the exercise suspended even as the capacity of the KWS to protect wildlife was cast in doubt.
“To lose 11 rhinos in one incident must never happen again. If you get to the bottom of this matter and restore the image of KWS, you will have done great service to the country,” Dr Leakey said.
The campaign to move the rhinos started way back in February and, in all the meetings that facilitated the translocation, the former KWS board was opposed from the word go.
But it was not until the end of the board’s term that the translocation was finally executed on June 26.
Mr Mbiuki said that the matter is grave considering that tourism is Kenya’s highest foreign income earner.