Elephants, buffaloes die of thirst as drought takes toll

Kwale drought

A mother and her child carry water back home in Mavirivirini Asili village in Mwavumbo Ward, Kwale County, on November 24, 2021. The prolonged dry spell has sparked an acute water shortage in the region.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The dry spell is pushing wildlife into neighbouring ranches and human settlements.
  • Rivers have dried up, while some watering holes are now either muddy pits or completely dry. 

Wildlife conservancies in Taita Taveta County are grappling with the effects of a prolonged drought as wild animals die of thirst and humans with their livestock compete with the beasts for scarce water in the sanctuaries. 

The dry spell is taking a huge toll on life at the Tsavo National Park, pushing wildlife into neighbouring ranches and human settlements and increasing cases of human-wildlife conflict . 

Dozens of elephants and buffaloes are reported to have died, with Taita Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA) Coordinator Alfred Mwanake saying he personally counted the carcasses of five elephants. 

“The death of wildlife could deal a huge blow to the country’s recovering tourism sector. We are nearing the peak [tourism] season and no tourist will want to visit our conservancies to see wildlife carcasses,” he said. 

A spot-check by the Nation revealed diminished water levels in boreholes. Other sources like rivers have dried up, while some watering holes are now either muddy pits or completely dry. 

The ranches are now depending on the remaining boreholes to water livestock and wildlife. 

“The 69 water pans in the 28 ranches under the TTWCA are all dry. The ranches now have to pump water for all animals that converge at the watering points,” Mr Mwanake explained. 

Devastating drought

“Last season, the rains failed and that is why we are experiencing this situation. We fear that the drought could worsen because there are still no rains,” he said. 

Due to the devastating drought, he noted, some ranchers are now supplementing their cattle’s diets with hay, while others are selling them off to avert further losses. 

“We have sold off more than 15,000 of our livestock. Only 30, 000 are remaining,” Mr Mwanake said. He urged the government to provide alternative water sources in the ranches to enable them tide through the tough times as they wait for the rains. 

“We are worried that more livestock and wildlife will die if the situation worsens,” he said. Since the animals are sharing the grazing area and the water point, the risk of disease outbreaks for the livestock in the ranch has now become common. 

Mr Mwanake called on the government to intervene by drilling new boreholes, providing animal feeds and veterinary services. 

He said the move will help the conservancies to manage the drought better and protect both livestock and the wildlife. 

The 28 ranches occupy about 1 million acres, or 24 per cent of land in Taita Taveta County. Over 60 per cent of the county is occupied by Tsavo National Park. 

Effects of drought

TTWCA chairperson Mcharo Bong’osa lamented rising tensions between people and wildlife: “All the water pans are dry. Wild animals now roam in the ranches looking for water. We have to cater to wild animals before watering livestock.” 

He revealed that ranches are incurring huge costs to pump the water, leading to financial challenges for the conservancies. 

“We are calling for support to restore the existing water pans by desilting and expanding them,”he said. He called for the development of new water infrastructure in the long term. 

“As an immediate response, we also need to drill new boreholes in all the 28 ranches. We cannot do any meaningful development in these ranches if we don’t have water,” he said. 

In his recent visit to the local ranches, Livestock Principal Secretary Harry Kimutai urged ranchers to sell their animals to prevent losses. He said the government was negotiating with Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) to offer subsidised loans to the ranchers. 

“AFC will give you the money to buy feed to sustain the livestock for a while as we wait for the rains. When their health improves, sell them. Don’t keep them as it will be costly,” he said. In September, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared drought a national disaster. 

He said the Sh1.5 billion set aside for the livestock off-take programme by the government will cushion ranchers against the harsh effects of the drought.


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