In a bid to begin a new population of the rare animals, 11 rhinos were transported from Nairobi National Park and Nakuru National Park to a sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park. However, the salt levels in the water in Tsavo East were too high for the rhinos to tolerate, Kenyan officials said, and drinking the salty water likely caused dehydration, which then drove the rhinos to drink even more.
Fourteen rhinos were supposed to be moved to Tsavo East, but the relocations were suspended after the deaths.
The surviving rhinos were moved to a new area of the sanctuary to join other rhinos, and were “safe and sound,” the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said in a statement. They will be closely monitored and given fresh water.
The black rhino deaths were “unprecedented” in over a decade of relocation efforts by the Kenyan Wildlife Service to save the vanishing species, said officials. An investigation is ongoing.
Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of the nonprofit organization WildlifeDirect, called the deaths “a major conservation tragedy — not just for Kenya but for all rhinos.”
The number of African black rhinos dropped nearly 98 percent from 1960 to 1995 before conservation efforts began to slowly rebuild the population. There are roughly 5,000 black rhinos left in Africa, with 745 of them in Kenya. Poaching and black-market trafficking of rhino horn for folk medicines continue to threaten the species’ recovery.