Translocation of critically endangered black rhinos from Nakuru and Nairobi National Parks to Tsavo East National Park has been suspended following the death of eight out of the 14 during the exercise.
Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala suspended the translocation attributing the death to salt poisoning.
“Preliminary investigations by KWS veterinary teams attribute the deaths to salt poisoning as a result of taking water of high salinity on arrival in the new environment,” he said.
He said the findings are consistent with cases of salt poisoning in other animal species, indicating the change from fresh water to saline water in the sanctuary.
“The high salt levels lead to dehydration that triggers thirst mechanism, resulting in excess water intake of the saline water that further exacerbates the problem,” he added.
He termed the mortality rate as unprecedented in KWS operations.
“We invited Prof Peter Gathumbi, a Senior Veterinary Pathologist from University of Nairobi, to Tsavo to carry out independent investigations, where he collected samples on July 12 and would present his report in a week’s time,” he said.
He added that they have also sought input from Dr Markus Hoffmeyer, a Wildlife Conservationist, Rhino Veterinarian and translocation expert from South Africa.
In an earlier statement by Kenya Wildlife Service during the exercise, by the end of 2017, Kenya had a rhino population of 1,258 having grown from less than 400 rhinos in the 1980s.
They are 745 Black rhinos, 510 southern white rhinos, and three Northern white rhinos, the only surviving northern White Rhino Male died in March 2018, thus only two females remain.