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Black rhinos die after relocation to national park in Kenya


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.

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.

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?

04:25 mins.
Eco Africa | 11.08.2017

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.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino
'A very old man' in rhino years

Sudan was unable to stand up in the end. He was treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds. Veterinary experts took the decision to euthanize the animal." At the age of 45, Sudan was a very old man, well over 100 years old in human equivalent years," said the charity Helping Rhinos.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino
Under constant watch

Rhino horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine and for dagger handles in Yemen. A poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s wiped out northern white rhino populations in Uganda, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad. The last wild population was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that succumbed to fighting in the region. At Ol Pejeta, Sudan was constantly under armed guard.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino
Out of Africa

Given the danger that Sudan he would have been in when so much younger, he was among a group of northern white rhinos who were taken to a safari park in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino
A hopeful return

Sudan and a group of other northern white rhinos were moved back to Africa in 2009 in the hope that the move, in particular grassland at the Ol Peteja Conservancy in eastern Kenya, would give them more favorable breeding conditions.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino
Fading fast

The death of the only other northern white male, Suni, of natural causes in October 2014, further emphasized the need to urgently come up with alternative solutions for breeding.

Sudan, the last northern white rhino
Will they be the last?

Sudan eventually lived at Ol Peteja with the only other two members of his subspecies — his daughter Najin, and his granddaughter Fatu. Because of myriad health complications that mean the two cannot bear offspring, any future northern white rhino would have to be carried in pregnancy by southern white rhino female surrogates. However, their eggs would be used.

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law/sms (AFP, AP)