Taita ranchers plead with KWS to allow livestock to graze in Tsavo park

 A herder blocks his cattle to give way to elephants at Choke ranch in Taita Taveta County. The ongoing drought has made livestock and wildlife share water in the local ranches.

Photo credit: Liucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group

Ranchers in Taita Taveta County want the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to allow them to graze their livestock in Tsavo National Park after most of their pasture was depleted in the ongoing drought.

They said they have lost their livestock and more losses are likely.

Taita Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association chairperson Mcharo Bong'osa made the request on behalf of ranchers for KWS to open up special grazing areas in the park to save their animals. 

Mr Bong'osa said there was no more pasture in their ranches due to significant rainfall failure in the last two years. 

"We are requesting the government to apportion special grazing areas where we can take our livestock to graze until the rains come. All pasture and water in our area have been depleted because we share them with the wildlife," he said.

He called on local and national leaders to convene a meeting with stakeholders and come up with a drought response strategy to provide immediate and short-term solutions.

The 2013 Wildlife Conservation and Management Act allows grazing in parks, but the Department of Wildlife is yet to make guidelines for accessing protected areas for grazing and watering livestock during droughts and natural disasters.

Mr Bong'osa said ranches must now truck water to their water pans for both wildlife and livestock.

Providing water with trucks, Mr Bong'osa said, is costly for ranchers.

He said sometimes wildlife, especially elephants, deplete the water before the livestock get to the drinking points.

"We are losing our herds due to a crippling drought that has led to the drying up of reliable water sources. All the water pans in our ranches have dried up. If nothing is done in the next two weeks, it will be a calamity for our animals," he said. 

The National Drought Management Authority’s situation report for October shows that 144,000 cows, 51,885 sheep and 386,832 goats were affected by the drought.

Mr Bong'osa asked the government to supply animal feeds.

He claimed that a few influential people were allowed to graze their livestock in protected areas while some local herders were arrested for attempting to access water and pasture in the national park.

"While our local herders are being arrested and slapped with heavy fines by the courts, others who are influential are grazing in the park and are seen trucking water to the park for their livestock," he claimed.

During droughts, herders in the county ask KWS to allow them to graze their cattle in the vast park, but their calls are not honoured.

"Our intention is solely to graze. We will not allow any of our members to conduct illegal activities. We will also need KWS to provide security by conducting frequent patrols," Mr Bong'osa said. 

County Commissioner Loyford Kibaara said he and other leaders were planning to convene a meeting with KWS to discuss the ranchers’ request to graze in parks. 

He said the meeting will include political leaders, KWS, clerics and other wildlife stakeholders. 

"In the meeting, we will invite the KWS Director-General John Waweru, who will give us the way forward. He agreed to schedule it towards the end of this month," Mr Kibaara said.