The 188 KM2 Nakuru National Park is best known as the home of flamingos. It has also become a rhino sanctuary and a breeding area for the white rhino. Up until the translocation, it was not easy to see a rhino here. With the efforts of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the financial aid of the Kenya Rhino Rescue, the introduction of more rhinos has been a real success.
The project first started early in 1983 with the establishment of the Nakuru National Park as a rhino sanctuary. The idea was to capture threatened rhinos and transfer them here where they would be given 24-hour protection. The translocation would also facilitate the exchange of genetic characteristics and prevent inbreeding.
A rhino headquarters at Naishi in the south of the park was established, alongside the erection of a 74 KM electric fence, to give full protection to the rhinos. A pair of indigenous black rhinos (Diceros bicornis), which had never been bred, existed in the park at the time of installing the fence.
‘Stocking’ of black rhinos commenced in 1987 from Solio Game Reserve and Nairobi National Park. Later a pair were introduced from the same game reserve in 1990-91 and the female gave birth in March 1993. Further translocations of both white rhino and black rhino were undertaken and today the population totals 54.
In September 1994, through a donation from the Natal Parks Board of South Africa, the white rhino population in the park rose from 8 to 18. This donation is the most recent of approximately 3,800 animals translocated to reserves and zoos throughout the world since the early 1960s.
The Natal Parks Board gave 20 white rhinos altogether to Kenya. Five went to the Maasai Mara Reserve and the other 5 were taken to Nakuru National Park and released into their holding bomas the same day. Another 10 followed a week later destined for Ol Choro Ouirua in the Maasai Mara. In Nakuru, the rhinos were held in their pens for an acclimatisation period of two weeks.
Despite all the care invested in handling them, one arrived without her front horn. It had gotten broken inside the bomas in South Africa. This same female really suffered on her trip including having a premature male calf that died after only an hour.
The elaborate exercise kicked off with the transportation by air from South Africa to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and on to Nakuru and the Maasai Mara by road where specially constructed holding bomas awaited them.
The cocktail drug of narcotic and tranquillizer takes about 5 minutes to take effect after which the rhinos were given a quick check-up and an antibiotic to prevent any infection before being loaded onto a truck and carried to the bomas. They stayed in the South African bomas for a few months.