Tsavo drought leaves 78 elephants dead


A herd of elephants at Tsavo National Park.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Officials fear the ecosystem will record more deaths should pasture and water crisis persist.
  • Animals are fleeing Tsavo National Park, leading to a surge in human-wildlife conflict.

Kenya lost 78 elephants in nine months between 2021 and this year to drought in the Tsavo ecosystem.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary (CS) Najib Balala said the elephants died between last July and April this year. 

The ecosystem is home to 14,964 elephants, according to a 2021 census report. The CS said climate change has become a major challenge to conservation efforts as animals continue to suffer drought.

"We are only losing a few elephants to illegal wildlife trade, but the climate change problem has become such a big challenge because it is killing more animals because of drought,” he said.

The dry spell is taking its toll on life at the Tsavo National Park, pushing wildlife into neighbouring ranches and human settlements and increasing cases of human-wildlife conflict. A spot-check by Sunday Nation before the rains revealed diminished water levels in boreholes. Other sources like rivers had dried up, with some watering holes either muddy or completely dry.

Mr Ken Kimitei, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) ecologist for Tsavo and Mkomanzi conservation areas, said the drought has affected wildlife. He said the population of the elephants may decline further if the crisis continues. “Climate change is a problem because an elephant feeds on about 200 kilos of food and 200 litres of water in a day. If the drought persists, we expect more to die," he said, adding that those mostly affected are calves and elderly elephants.

To mitigate the drought menace, the government plans to construct 13 water pans.

"The rains have started but they are not enough. I was in Tsavo National Park and I saw that it is still dry," said Mr Balala.

He said the ministry has also embarked on afforestation of the ecosystem where 200,000 trees have been planted to mitigate the climate change crisis. The CS spoke at the Kenya Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Academy in Manyani, Taita Taveta County, during the passing-out ceremony of 68 community rangers from conservancies in Tsavo, Meru, Lamu and Mara landscapes.

He was accompanied by Principal Secretary Zeinab Hussein, KWS director general John Waweru and Board of Trustees chairman Joseph Kibwana, among other government officers and conservation partners.

Mr Balala said the rangers will play an important role in addressing human-wildlife conflict in the areas neighbouring their conservancies. “They have received the capacity to combat the illegal wildlife trade and understand conservation. They will also promote the coexistence between the community and wildlife," he said.

He said the government will expand the capacity of the Law Enforcement Academy to not only offer paramilitary training but also education to those who want to engage in conservation.

The ministry will establish a wildlife boot camp at the academy for local and international students. “The boot camp will host students who want to come here and experience being a ranger," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Balala said the tourism industry is recovering from the Covid-19 shocks and the government will witness a gradual recovery in terms of revenues in the tourism economy. 

He said the industry earnings had dropped from Sh157 billion in 2019 to Sh136 billion last year, adding that 70 per cent of last year's revenue was due to the demand from domestic tourists. He said the industry will fully recover in the 2023/24 period. “I appreciate the support of Kenyans and we are more positive about the future of this sector,” the CS said.