Rhinos are an endangered species and when headlines that 11 of them died in a day appear, they send shockwaves around the world.
Kenya’s tourism earnings which totalled 120 billion shillings ($1.2 billion) in 2017 may once again decline due to the continued threats to endangered flora and fauna the latest being the deaths of 11 rhinos that had just been translocated to a new environment.
The 2017 earnings were a 20 per cent jump from the previous year, this despite many travel advisories issued by the country’s main source markets-the US and the UK.
But this sharp increase in revenues may not be sustained if threats to wildlife continue. While poaching remains a headache for conservationists, the latest threat was evident in the botched translocation of 11 rhinos to the Tsavo East National Park.
14 rhinos were to be translocated to enable breeding but questions linger over the other 3.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya had a rhino population of 1,258 (745 Black rhinos, 510 southern white rhinos and 3 Northern white rhinos by the end of 2017.
The only surviving northern White Rhino male died in March 2018 leaving only 2 females.
KWS says the growth indicates gradual growth due to concerted efforts from KWS, private landholders, communities, county governments, local and international partners.
It notes that these efforts must be sustained as the numbers remain relatively low and the species remains critically endangered. However, the deadly translocation exercise is raising more questions since KWS has not been forthright with answers.
And Kenyans are furious with conservationist Dr Paula Kahumbu expressing her outrage over the failed mission:
FAIL!!! All 11 translocated rhinos in Kenya have died.Sad time for Rhinos when more animals die from mismanagement than poachers guns 🙂
— Dr. Paula Kahumbu (@paulakahumbu) July 26, 2018
Greenpeace Africa’s Executive Director, Njeri Kabeberi says there should be a thorough investigation of the tragedy since the deaths are highly unusual.
“Losing 8 black rhinos in a translocation exercise is a major conservation tragedy. The people involved in this exercise should take responsibility. This is another major setback for conservation, happening only a few months after the last remaining male northern white rhino on the planet died in March in Kenya.”
On Thursday, Tourism CS Najib Balala suspended six KWS officers over the rhinos’ deaths. He said investigators found unacceptable professional negligence among the officers who await further disciplinary action to be taken by the KWS Board.
Balala said of the deaths: “According to the inquiry team, the cause of all the deaths was due to multiple stress syndrome intensified by salt poisoning and complicated by dehydration, starvation, the proliferation of opportunistic bacteria in upper respiratory tract (Pasteurella species), gastric ulcers and gastritis.”
“I also direct the Board, through the Chair, to examine the involvement of NGOs and establish clear protocols of engagement. I, likewise, direct that two temporary positions created by the former Board of Chief Operating Officer and Advisor to the DG be abolished immediately.”
While this may be coming a little too late, the dent on Kenya’s wildlife continues as poaching has not been fully curtailed.
In a statement on July 13, Dr Kahumbu said, “But this translocation can only be described as a complete disaster and Kenyans must demand an explanation and full transparency as well as reassurances that we will adopt the best practices in wildlife translocations to learn from this disaster and prevent it from ever happening again.”
She added that three rhinos were killed at the Meru Park earlier this year which can only add to the declining numbers.
In June, KWS and WWF Kenya started the process and highly publicised the Sh100 million move which has become more controversial than compelling.
This tragedy comes just a few months before Kenya starts its direct flights to the US.
The deaths of the eight odd-toed ungulates have left many Kenyans and conservationists elsewhere baffled calling the translocation a sham.
Kabeberi said KWS and WWF need to learn from this disaster and put in place measures and best practices to prevent this from recurring.
While wildlife is Kenya’s heritage, the monetary benefits that come with it cannot be underestimated.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the direct contribution of tourism to GDP is expected to grow by 6.0% pa to KES487.1bn (3.7% of GDP) by 2027.
In 2016, the sector created 99,000 jobs directly which was 3.4 per cent of the total employment with a 2027 projection of 569,000 jobs directly.