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February 20, 2019

Stop using vets as scapegoats for rhino deaths, union tells Balala

Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala when he appeared before the National Assembly Committee on Environment on July 31, 2018. /JSCK OWUOR
Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala when he appeared before the National Assembly Committee on Environment on July 31, 2018. /JSCK OWUOR

The Union of Veterinary Practitioners has criticised Tourism CS Najib Balala for "unfairly blaming doctors" for the deaths of 10 rhinos owing to salty water. 

Chairman Benson Kibore on Wednesday told the CS to stop using veterinary doctors as scapegoats. He alleged foul play and said they are being sacrificed to appease the public.

Kibore wondered why an officer, who had been transferred from the Kenya Wildlife Service, was part of the investigating team. He claimed the officer had carried out the Environmental Impact Assessment.

“Why should a suspect be part of the investigating team?” he asked.

On Tuesday the CS apologised for telling critics who asked him to resign over the deaths of endangered rhinos to ‘go to hell’.

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

See: I'm sorry, Balala says on his 'go to hell' outburst

Read: Balala suspends KWS staff over 10 rhino deaths

Also read: We made mistakes in fatal transfer of rhinos, conservationists say

He faulted the system, saying it did not act quickly to stop the deaths. The former Mvita MP said the KWS had done its best but said negligence caused the deaths.

“It is clear there was some negligence during the translocation of the animals,” Balala said.

Kibore said veterinary doctors at KWS do not have the power to authorise big and sensitive projects, which is done by the head of species and ecology.

He said it is wrong to blame them, yet the translocation project began in 2011 after an environmental assessment was done.

“By 2015, the saline borehole already existed while rhinos were being moved,” Kibore said.

The official said the ecological and water salinity report was not produced as requested by the conservation committee. He said it was only released after the rhinos' death.

He said the report tabled by a veterinary doctor from South Africa is illegal since he is not licensed to practice in Kenya.

“The Veterinary Board is the only government agency that licenses expatriates,” he said.

“Who certified that the environment at Tsavo East had improved and was not a threat to the animals? Who gave the final order for the animals to be moved? Kibore asked.

Kibore said the World Wide Fund for Nature, which partnered with the KWS, should explain why they halted the project, changed sites and looked for alternative parks for the rhinos.

He said the conservationists should tell Kenyans why they insisted on moving the animals to Tsavo, and why they went through the ministry and not the board. 

Kibore also questioned why after three assessments reports on the harsh environment at Tsavo, the rhinos were still transferred.

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