Hundreds of elephants and zebras die as Kenya faces drought

An elephant keeper plays with two calves at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya
Elephant keeper Kiapi Lakupanai plays with two calves at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, Samburu, Kenya, on October 12, 2022. The sanctuary has been overwhelmed by rescue operations and the influx of orphans and abandoned people due to the current drought.

LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of animals, including elephants and endangered Grevy’s zebras, have died in wildlife sanctuaries in Kenya during East Africa’s worst drought in decades, according to a report released on Friday.

The Kenya Wildlife Service and other groups have counted the deaths of 205 elephants, 512 wildebeests, 381 common zebras, 51 buffaloes, 49 Grevy’s zebras and 12 giraffes in the past nine months, the report said.

Parts of Kenya have experienced four consecutive seasons of insufficient rainfall in the past two years, with dire consequences for people and animals, including livestock.

“The drought … resulted in massive wildlife population loss through death and possibly migration to other areas,” the report said.

Zebras in a Kenyan national park
A group of zebras in Tsavo National Park in Kenya’s Taita-Taveta County on September 30, 2022. As drought continues to affect animals and people in East Africa, wildlife in Kenya is dying in large numbers in many protected parks the country.

Andrew Wasike/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“The drought has had a negative impact on populations of herbivores and especially wildebeest and zebra,” he says. “Most of the wildlife species affected are rangers.”

According to the report’s authors, the most affected ecosystems are home to some of Kenya’s most popular national parks, game reserves and reserves, including the Amboseli, Tsavo and Laikipia-Samburu regions.

They called for an urgent aerial census of wildlife in Amboseli to get a wider picture of the effects of the drought on wildlife there.

Other experts have recommended the immediate supply of water and salt to the affected areas. Elephants, for example, drink 240 liters (63.40 gallons) of water a day, according to Jim Justus Nyamu, executive director of the Elephant Neighbors Center. For Grevy’s zebras, experts are urging increased hay supplies.

Peninah Malonza, Kenya’s minister of tourism, wildlife and cultural heritage, tweeted photos from a visit to Tsavo East National Park this week and spoke of measures the government has taken to tackle the problem, including animal feeding programmes, transportation water for wildlife in protected areas, and increasing monitoring of wildlife outside protected areas to reduce conflicts with humans.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization says the drought is the region’s worst in 40 years and has warned that more than 50 million people in the region are suffering from acute food insecurity.

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