Wildlife authorities in Kenya have opened a new sanctuary for black rhinos in Tsavo East National Park. Black rhinos have fared better than other rhino species in recent years, but remain threatened by poachers who kill the animals for their horns.
The Kenya Wildlife Service, working in collaboration with The World Wide Fund for Nature, has moved eight black rhinos from Nairobi National Park to Tsavo East National Park.
Six more black rhinos from Nakuru National Park are due to join them.
If all goes well, the new sanctuary in Tsavo East will serve as breeding ground for the black rhino species.
Kenya Wildlife Service spokesperson Paul Gathitu says a lot of planning was done to ensure the rhinos are safe in the new habitat.
“There has to be sufficient food, it has to be correct in terms of weather, in terms of water that is available, so all those factors had to be put in place including even the issue of security of the rhinos themselves," said Gathitu. "All that put together, we felt that the conditions were about right.”
Rhino numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years, mainly due to poachers killing the animals to satisfy the black market for rhino horn. According to the non-profit Save the Rhino, more than 7,200 African rhinos have been lost to poaching during the past decade.
On May 3rd, three black rhinos were found dead with their horns missing in Kenya's Meru National Park. Officials confirmed the deaths were the result of poaching.
The new 100-square kilometer rhino sanctuary in Tsavo East has a solar-powered electric fence designed to prevent poachers from entering the park.
Gathitu says officials will keep close track of the rhinos.
“One and a half years later we will check to see have they increased, who has young ones, who is the auntie of who, and will keep some very individual records of each of those rhinos," said Gathitu. "They all have a name, are all tagged, so that we can be able to identify them individually. We are hoping that we will be able to build another big population to then contribute to the future building up of other sanctuaries.”
Separately, scientists are hoping to rebuild the northern white rhino species. The last male of the species died in March of this year, and scientists are planning to artificially inseminate the two remaining females.
But overall, rhino numbers in Kenya are on the rise. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, at the end of 2017, Kenya had a rhino population of 1,258, including 745 black rhinos.
The population has increased steadily since the 1980s, when Kenya was home to fewer than 400 of the animals.