TSAVO ELEPHANTS SEEK TO ESCAPE DROUGHT
The game rich but drought hit area of Tsavo East National Park and the adjoining Taita Hills Game Reserve are traditionally the home of large numbers of elephant, traversing the protected areas in search of food and water following an age old pattern. However, the present drought condition has apparently prompted several hundred elephant to leave the safety of the park and reserve and made their way into the farming communities living in the area. Over the Easter weekend reports emerged from Nairobi that Kenya Wildlife Service was compelled to deploy dozens of rangers in a desperate effort to drive the animals back into the park, after local farmers filed angry reports with their district administration and security forces. The elephants had by the time the rangers were on scene already destroyed over 100 acres under crop, a hard blow to local farmers considering the lack of rains already making farming a daily challenge. At least one farmer was seriously injured during an elephant attack while working on his ‘shamba’ and it could not be ascertained if he had tried to chase the elephants away or if he was attacked outright.
Several villages literally went into lock down mode, with villagers staying indoors as the elephants strayed through and around their homesteads and the arrival of KWS personnel at least brought some hope to them to return to ‘normal life’ after the elephant were chased off.
A surveillance aircraft supported the team on the ground, which used both vehicles and ground patrols to establish the whereabouts of breakaway groups of elephants before ‘engaging’ them and gradually driving them back towards the national park.
KWS has only recently concluded ‘collaring’ several elephant in the area to establish a movement pattern through electronic surveillance measures but it is not clear if any of the collared animals had actually been part of the group of several hundred elephant which had ‘escaped’ the drought stricken parts of the park.
The devastating drought between 2007 to late 2009 forced KWS in some cases to purchase food for the wild animals and then engage in a wildlife relocation to boost species numbers where they had fallen below critical reproduction levels, and more recently reports emerged that KWS had to buy water to elephant herds in another part of the country, where water sources had started to dry up.
Residents of the affected areas have appealed to government to quickly provide them with emergency food aid to make up for the lost crops, and also for new seeds to replant as soon as possible, to avoid potential shortages of food. KWS sources acknowledged their responsibility to care for the safety of both game as well as protecting people living near protected areas and promised that surveillance would be stepped up and patrols strengthened to avoid the elephants returning to the farmlands.
No information could be received at the time of going to press what compensation the villagers can expect and how fast relief would be delivered to them, in itself a crucial component of garnering community support for conservation measures.
Watch this space.