Kenya: How Black Rhinos Died as Balala Staff Chased WWF Deal

23 September 2019

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala could be in for a rough time after a parliamentary committee recommended that he take full responsibility for the death of 11 precious black rhinos after a botched translocation last year.

However, this will only happen if MPs adopt the report of the National Assembly Committee on Environment and Natural Resources presented to the House on Thursday last week without amendments.

The Executive must also act on the MPs' resolution for it to take effect.

The committee chaired by Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki has been investigating the controversial translocation and the death of the rare species since last year.

"There were weaknesses in the execution of the ministry's oversight role over KWS," its report says, adding: "KWS had outdated translocation guidelines and protocols to guide the translocation of wildlife in the country."

More shocking is the fact that the translocation could have been motivated by 25 million Euros (about Sh2.8 billion) that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which was behind the exercise, was seeking from Germany.

PUBLICITY

The report notes that the translocation was meant to provide positive publicity to facilitate the securing of the funding, which goes against national policies and priorities.

"WWF, which was partnering with KWS on Rhino conservation, had funded the translocation but had no legal standing and leeway to pressure a government agency to act outside laid-down procedures and regulations," states the report.

In June last year, the translocation was launched with great fanfare by Mr Balala and the WWF.

It involved moving rhinos from parks in Nairobi and Nakuru to a new sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park, which KWS and WWF had spent six years building.

It was to be a routine exercise but the death of the animals, caused largely by the high levels of salt in the water they consumed at the new sanctuary, not only baffled the world but raised questions about Kenya's seriousness in conserving its wildlife.

Even more curious is the fact that concerns about the health of the animals in the new sanctuary were blatantly ignored by the Ministry and KWS officials perhaps over competing interests, including the urge to nourish their pockets.

RESPONSIBILITY

The committee puts Mr Balala on the spot over his delay in appointing a new board of trustees at KWS, which would have offered policy direction and guidance to the KWS management.

The report states that in the absence of the board, the ministry had overall responsibility for KWS operations.

Mr Balala hurriedly appointed a new board after the deaths.

The committee notes that the term of the previous board members had ended on April 17, 2018, "but three months later there was no board and this could not be reasonably justified".

The Principal Secretary in the ministry, who sat on the previous board, is also on the spot for not ensuring proper oversight regarding the translocation.

The MPs further want the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to investigate the then head of ecological and monitoring at KWS for withholding crucial information.

POOR HABITAT

They believe the information would have helped in the decision making and could have contributed to averting the deaths.

It is not clear why the ministry went ahead with the translocation when the previous board had declined to approve the move three times.

It believed that it was inadvisable to move the free-range rhinos to a sanctuary that had water with high salinity levels and unfavourable habitat levels.

"It was not demonstrated by the ministry that the above reasons had been sufficiently addressed to warrant the hurried translocation," states the report.

The legislators wonder why the DCI is yet to investigate the head of veterinary, who is also the one in charge of capture services, for the death of two rhinos moved from Nakuru despite warning that one was already sick.

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