Nairobi, July 26 – The cause of death of ten critically endangered rhinoceros that perished recently in Kenya after they were moved to a different national park was multiple stress syndrome that was aggravated by salt poisoning, dehydration, starvation, opportunistic bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract, gastric ulcers and gastritis, the country’s Tourism Minister said today.

The minister, Najib Balala, also suspended a number of senior officials of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the government agency responsible for the translocation of the rhinos from Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks to a newly-created rhino sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park to the south of the country.

Nine of the rhinos died earlier this month while the tenth one died on July 26.

“The independent inquiry […] showed there were areas of clear negligence that occurred post translocation at the release site in Tsavo, especially in the holding boma (shed) at the sanctuary.”

“These included poor co-ordination and communication among officers that were responsible for pre-translocation studies, including biomass assessments; environmental impact assessments and water quality assessments. The results of the water assessments were hardly considered before execution of the operation,” Mr. Balala said in a press statement.

Investigators had found “unacceptable professional negligence” among six senior officers, most of them veterinarians.

The former KWS Board of Trustees had approved the translocation of the rhinos to Tsavo East subject to the monitoring of the water supply for suitability at the time the animals were moved, Mr. Balala said.

“I also direct the KWS Board to comprehensively examine the general weaknesses in the command and control structure of the organization, which has shown serious anomalies evident from this debacle. In addition, the Board will also review the senior management structure to align clear reporting lines. I am also directing the Board, through the Chair, to examine the involvement of NGOs and establish clear protocols of engagement,” the minister added.

He said the loss of the ten rhinos “has shocked the nation, the Global Conservation World and, more importantly, even the KWS staff themselves,” he said.

The black rhino (Diceros bicornis) is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to IUCN, black rhino population declined by a staggering 97.6 per cent from 1960 to the 1990s, primarily as a result of poaching.

In 1993, there were estimated to be just 2,300 black rhino living in the wild, but thanks to conservation efforts across Kenya and southern Africa, populations have risen to over 5,000 currently.