Leakey links rhino deaths to 'lack of functional board' at KWS

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) personnel push a tranquillised female black rhino before transporting it as part of a rhino translocation exercise in Nairobi National Park, June 26, 2018. /REUTERS
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) personnel push a tranquillised female black rhino before transporting it as part of a rhino translocation exercise in Nairobi National Park, June 26, 2018. /REUTERS

The deaths of 10 black rhinos at Tsavo East National Park may have resulted from the lack of informed decisions by a functional board, former KWS chair Richard Leakey has said.

Leakey noted on Thursday that the previous board's term ended on April 17 but a new one is yet to be formed.

He said the absence of the board may have led to oversight on the part of those involved in the translocation of the rhinos without precaution.

“Unfortunately, as of today and this statement, I am unaware of a new board ... and if there is one, as [Tourism] CS [Najib] Balala implied in his press briefing yesterday, has it met?”

He added that the absence of a team for three months meant weighty decisions were hanging. He cited decisions on disciplinary matters and the direction of the service, considering the ministry has opposed legislation governing the operations of the KWS.

“It is unfortunate that the minister’s statement failed to reflect the fundamentals behind this tragedy and dig deeper into the real problems at KWS,” Leakey said.

Balala on Thursday suspended six senior officials at KWS over “unacceptable professional negligence”.

He said the officials will remain suspended pending further disciplinary action deemed appropriate by the board of KWS – which Leakey now says could be non-existent.

Balala earlier explained that the animals died due to multiple stress syndrome intensified by salt poisoning and complicated by dehydration, starvation, proliferation of opportunistic bacteria in upper respiratory tract (Pasteurella species), gastric ulcers and gastritis.

The only rhino to survive the bungled relocation was attacked by lions.

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In his statement today, Leakey said that during his tenure, the board

averted a similar tragedy three times, over environmental conditions that were unfavourable for the rhinos.

He said the World Wide Fund, one of the major donors for wildlife conservation in the country, raised concerns about the sanctuary at Tsavo East.

“The board noted deep concern about the lack of vegetation in the sanctuary to sustain rhinos and also the real issue of available and safe water,” Leakey said.

“The board directed that no translocation should occur unless these two matters were adequately addressed to its satisfaction. Management was told a firm 'NO',” he added.

If Leakey's claim about the lack of a board are true, Balala will likely be questioned over the green light for KWS to move

14 black rhinos from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru National Parks without

proper consultation.

Below is Leakey's statement: