Her name was Dida. For over half a century, she roamed the expansive Tsavo landscape in absolute majesty; a towering matriarch who led generations of elephants through ancient migrating corridors to conquer the Tsavo and Mkomazi Eco-systems.
In her long life, this queen of the wild, survived bullets from poachers, snares from hunters, drought, flash floods and wild bush fires. However, in 2022, the vagaries of old age exacerbated by debilitating effects of one of the most severe droughts to ever sweep through the Tsavo National Park finally was too much for this iconic beast.
“A matriarch has rested,” Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) wrote on their official Twitter handle while eulogising Dida who is said to be one of the last generation of greatest tuskers in Kenya.
Dida is amongst 205 elephants that have died in Kenya between February and October this year from devastating drought. Tsavo National Park alone has lost over 100 elephants, translating to nearly 50 percent of all the elephant fatalities. Other animals including buffaloes, giraffes, zebras and warthogs have also succumbed in various parks.
The grim statistics underscores the severity of the effects of drought in protected areas even as calls are made for urgent intervention to forestall a wildlife carnage of unprecedented proportions. According to the National Wildlife Census 2021 Report, Kenya has a population of 36, 280 elephants with Tsavo National Park having over 14,000 elephants.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Ms Peninah Malonza toured Tsavo East National Park for an assessment trip and termed the situation as precarious. She said the government had launched a multi-pronged approach to mitigate against the drought and shield wildlife from being adversely affected.
Amongst the immediate interventions the government is undertaking is water-trucking to wildlife inside the park. This initiative will be jointly done by KWS and conservation partners working inside Tsavo Park. They include David Sheldrick and Tsavo Trust amongst others.
“We are now into water trucking to the most severely affected areas in collaboration with our partners. This water will refill troughs and water pans for animals,” said the CS.
Other long-term interventions the government is engaged in are constructing twelve water pans in strategic places inside Tsavo. The water pans are expected to be replenished by rain water.
The CS further disclosed plans to desilt Aruba dam; the biggest dam in Tsavo East National Park that dried off five years ago. Once desilted, the dam will serve hundreds of elephants and other wildlife that often stray to community areas.
“We expect the water pans to significantly increase the water-holding capacity in protected areas to the benefit of our wildlife,” the CS said.
KWS is also embarking on massive reforestation of large swathes of degraded areas in a long-term project to restore tree cover and promote regeneration of plants. The Tsavo Restoration Project entails planting eight million trees annually with the targeted areas for reforestation being fenced off to keep wildlife off and allow the seedlings to grow.
The current drought has fomented an unprecedented crisis for KWS with a sharp spike of human-wildlife conflicts being reported by villagers adjacent to the park. County officials say drought in the park has driven over 50 percent of the elephant population in Tsavo to move outside the protected areas in community areas including the ranches.
Mr Mcharo Bon’gosa, the chairperson of Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA) warned that over 33 ranches in the region were staring at a looming catastrophe as pasture and water resources in ranches dwindled at an alarming rate. He requested the government to make special provisions for ranchers to be allowed to graze in the park to avert massive livestock loss.
“In times of great crisis like the one we are under; the government should allow ranchers to graze their livestock inside the protected area. This will help us avoid huge animal losses,” he said.
However, during a meeting between senior KWS officials and the county government on Thursday, KWS declined the request arguing, it was going against the law. The meeting was attended by KWS top brass, governor Andrew Mwadime, MPs Abdi Chome of Voi, Bwire Okeno of Taveta and Peter Shake of Mwatate.
In his speech, Director General Brig (rtd) John Waweru said the law proscribed grazing in protected areas. He however said there are many other areas of cooperation that KWS could engage the ranchers on. He cited Amboseli National Park where KWS had partnered with the communities to provide water and fodder for distressed livestock as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
“Livestock are not allowed in protected areas. We are willing to engage the ranchers and livestock owners in Tsavo, to mitigate against the effects of drought as we have done in Amboseli,” he said.
The DG added that KWS had launched extensive measures to combat the human wildlife conflict in the region. These included erecting electric fences in areas prone to conflicts and deploying rangers to drive away elephants from farms. He however said that some of the projects will have to be relooked into after the KWS budget was slashed by half a billion shillings as part of government’s initiative to slash expenditure.
He also termed as unviable the proposal by county leadership of sharing revenues from Tsavo National Park stating that KWS had to work with multiple partners to fund operations and activities inside the expansive park. The county had asked KWS to set aside a percentage of its revenue from Tsavo to support county activities.
Last month, KWS released Sh206 million as compensation for hundreds of victims of human wildlife conflict in the region.
Governor Mwadime pledged to work closely with KWS to find a lasting solution to the challenges facing the residents as a result of human-wildlife conflict. He added that he would keep pushing leaders in the region to engage the national government to share in Tsavo National Park revenues.
By Wagema Mwangi