The death of 10 out of 11 rhinos translocated to Tsavo East National Park was a horrendous setback to conservation efforts well beyond our borders.
That Kenya, with just 650 black rhinos left, lost in one swoop, ten of them came like bolt right from the blues. Not surprisingly, there were angry global reactions and demands for explanation and determination of culpability.
Kenya’s Wildlife conservation has recently been mired in negativity. Perennial wildlife-human conflict reports have escalated. Only two weeks ago, livestock farmers in Taita were up in arms when lions broke loose from the park, mauling scores of their livestock and creating virtual curfew which curtailed socio-economic activities, including schooling for children.
We have no doubt that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) broadly does a good job, but there are times it becomes obvious they must up their game. The deaths of the 10 rhinos exposed a serious lapse in KWS operations which Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala yesterday rightly acted on, when the axe fell on six top officials he indicted over negligence, poor coordination and poor communication as revealed by a probe undertaken by experts from diverse backgrounds. One reason cited for our toxic lethargy and impunity while rendering public service is that those responsible are rarely made to account. That time must now be behind us.
It’s unfathomable that ecological suitability report drawn by experts was cynically ignored and the rhinos translocated, leading to their deaths. This cannot be blamed on restricted capacity and other resources as tends to be the case whenever such tragedies occur for the truth is that the exercise was being undertaken by KWS in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a significant benefactor.
But while the spotlight remains on KWS, it is important to point out the tiff which has lately seen high turnover at its management level, reports of underfunding, grounded surveillance and monitoring equipment. Kenya cannot afford to compromise our obligation as guardians of biodiversity, not just for the sake of tourists who are a core forex earner, but more importantly for posterity.
At at time when reports on poaching have reduced significantly, the rhino deaths were heart-wrenching. The officials picked by Balala yesterday to hold fort must work to restore faith and confidence in KWS capacity to deliver.