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The Reintroduction of the Eastern Black Rhino in Kenya

Harriet Rothwell-Inch

Thursday, 18 April 2024

After more than 50 years, the Eastern Black Rhino returns to a central Kenyan plateau. Editor in Chief, Harriet, dives into the details of this incredible conservationist effort.

Conservationists in Africa are celebrating the successful relocation of 21 Eastern Black Rhinos to the Loisaba Conservancy plateau in Kenya. This is the first time in decades that this critically endangered species has existed in Loisaba since they were eradicated from the area by poachers. The 10 males and 11 females were moved to Loisaba from three other Kenyan conservancies: Nairobi National Park, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

Kenya boasts 16 rhinoceros conservancies, which have been doing vital work to establish successful breeding programs to bring the species back from the brink. These conservancies appear to be victims of their own success, as the primary motivation for the translocation was lack of space in existing sanctuaries! This is truly a remarkable turnaround for the Eastern Black Rhino after rampant, illegal poaching during the 1970s and 1980s saw their numbers in the wild dwindle from 20,000 to fewer than 300.

The relocation took three weeks to complete, starting on January 16th and ending with the rhinos successfully released into their new home on February 2nd. Each 1,400-kilogram rhino was tranquilised, captured, and loaded into wood-and-steel crates which were then transported on trucks in groups of three to Loisaba. Wild animal translocations must be handled extremely carefully, as there is a high risk of animal mortality either due to complications from the anaesthesia, or simply due to the stress.

Loisaba Conservancy totals 58,000 acres and around half of this area has been fenced off for the new rhino herd. Before the decision was made to relocate the creatures here, an ecological assessment and rigorous testing on the water quality in the area yielded gold star results for habitat suitability. As Loisaba had previously been home to several other healthy black rhino populations, it is no surprise that it was found to be an ideal environment for the new herd, but the Kenya Wildlife service decreed that these ecological tests were a necessary preventative measure to optimise the herd’s survival.

In 2018, a similar relocation attempt of 11 eastern black rhinos to the Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, ended in disaster and all 11 animals died shortly after arrival. Ten died of a combination of stress, dehydration, and salt-poisoning due to their new water supply having higher salt levels then they were used to, and the other was killed and eaten by lions. Tom Silvester, CEO of Loisaba Conservancy, said “KWS* were keen to make sure the same mistakes wouldn’t be made again. There’s been a lot of mitigation planning, with every scenario thought through.”[1]

This tragedy only serves to highlight the success of this most recent relocation and the hope it brings for the continued growth and survival of the eastern black rhino. Once the new inhabitants have settled, within the next couple of years Silvester hopes that Loisaba will see the arrival of calves!

This entire operation is a vital step in the conservation of the eastern black rhino, and bringing this species back from the brink of extinction.


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[1] Black rhinos moved to Kenya’s Loisaba Conservancy as species recovers (

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global affairs conservation eastern black rhino africa kenya Harriet Rothwell-Inch


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