- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

NAIROBI, Kenya — Conservationists demanded this week to know how four rare black rhinos died within days of being moved from a national park here to the private ranch of an author from Europe.

The animals, which are sensitive to change, were trucked to Kuki Gallman’s property during the chilly wet season.

Wildlife activists said poor conditions at their new home also contributed to their deaths.

Mrs. Gallmann’s autobiography, “I Dreamed of Africa,” described her love for her husband, Paulo, and how after his sudden death she braved Kenya’s dangers alone with their young son. The book was turned into a film starring Kim Basinger in 2000.

Mrs. Gallmann runs the Ol ari Nyiro ranch at Laikipia, in the shadow of Mount Kenya, 150 miles north of Nairobi, where tourists pay handsomely to view rare wildlife, including the black rhinos.

Ten were to be moved from the Nairobi national park to bolster a rhino family on the ranch and supposedly to ease overcrowding in the state-run reserve.

One died in Nairobi at the beginning of the month during preparations for the move and four others died at Ol ari Nyiro, provoking a storm among Kenya’s leading wildlife figures.

“These are shocking losses,” said Daphne Sheldrick, head of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for orphaned rhinos and elephants.

“Why are rhinos being moved during the wet season to a colder area when they are extremely sensitive to changes in the weather?

“And why are rhinos, which are breeding in the national park where the land tenure is secure, being sent to a private ranch in Laikipia, where there is great pressure for land?”

Mrs. Sheldrick said holding pens built to house the new arrivals while they got acclimated at Ol ari Nyiro were too flimsy and poorly drained, leaving the rhinos deep in muddy water and exposed to the fierce May rains.

But Mrs. Gallmann said on Monday that her staff took all necessary precautions.

“We put in place nine rhino pens, an electrified fence, a radio frequency, a vehicle and all feeds, all of which were passed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. But then the tide turned and the animals died.”

The row brought into focus again the practice of moving game from public to private parks.

A senior conservation worker said: “Who is behind this, and what incentives are they getting for moving animals from parks to private farms that could be sold off at any minute?”

The wildlife service, which organized the rhinos’ move, is investigating the deaths.

“Our preliminary analysis is that the four died from acute pneumonia and the one in Nairobi from stress,” a spokesman said.

“We move animals regularly, and a mortality rate of 5 to 10 percent is normal,” the spokesman said. “These numbers are obviously high.”

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