By KHALED KAZZIHA
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Seven critically endangered black rhinos are dead in Kenya following an attempt to move them from the capital to a national park hundreds of kilometers away, a wildlife official said Friday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, cited what he called “negligence” in the deaths.
Losing the rhinos is “a complete disaster,” said prominent Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect.
Conservationists in Africa have been working hard to protect black rhinos from poachers targeting them for their horns.
In moving the rhinos to Tsavo East National Park from Nairobi last month, the Kenya Wildlife Service said it hoped to boost the population there. The government agency, which has conducted numerous successful moves in the past, has not said how the rhinos died.
Kenya is home to 80 percent of the black rhinos’ remaining global population, Kahumbu said.
“Moving rhinos requires extremely careful planning and security due to the value of these rare animals,” she said in a statement. “Rhino translocations also have major welfare considerations and I dread to think of the suffering that these poor animals endured before they died. We need to know what went wrong so that it never happens again.”
According to WWF, black rhino populations declined dramatically in the 20th century, mostly at the hands of European hunters and settlers. Between 1960 and 1995 numbers dropped by 98 percent, to fewer than 2,500.
Since then the species has rebounded, although it remains extremely threatened.
In addition to poaching the animals also face habitat loss.
The last remaining male northern white rhino on the planet died in March in Kenya, leaving conservationists struggling to save that sub-species using in vitro fertilization.