A changing climate in Tsavo: effects of the current drought

A changing climate in Tsavo: effects of the current drought

Field Blog by Georgia Troup, Elephants and Bees PhD student in Tsavo

With wild and changing weather patterns dominating the news at the moment, here in Tsavo we are also experiencing the effects of climate change. Tsavo often sees little and erratic rainfall, however this years’ drought has proven particularly severe and devastating. The effects of completely missing the April-May wet season, as well as much of the November-December wet season before it, can be seen by both wildlife and subsistence farming communities alike.

By this time of year, farmers in Sagalla would have normally harvested two crop seasons worth of cow peas, maize, pigeon peas, green grams and other staple crops. At the beginning of the year some farmers were lucky to yield a small harvest, but over the last crop season that should have occurred mid this year, no one was able to harvest anything. In fact, there was so little rain in Sagalla that most farmers became despondent and didn’t bother to plant at all. In addition, the few cows that some families are lucky to own have died due to a lack of wild forage availability in the community. Many farmers in Sagalla are subsistence, and rely on the two crop seasons each year to provide food for their families. Now, most of the community is relying on government aid and the help of organisations such as World Vision. Charocal burning has also increased in the community, which ironically further contributes to a lack of rainfall.

Featured Photo above: A lion feasts on a young elephant (likely victim of the drought) in Tsavo East N.P. I see many young elephant carcasses in the Park these days.

Elephants and Bees staff member Paul’s farm in Sagalla. Everyone’s plots are completely dry, with not a crop in sight for months.

Across the highway in Tsavo East N.P., the wildlife is also suffering. The Park is so dry that there is hardly any food for the animals to eat, and as a result many herbivores have left in search of alternative food sources. I often see young elephant carcasses in the Park while conducting my daily elephant foraging observations, who are no doubt victims of this drought. I am finding that the elephants are now mostly eating the acacia trees that are withstanding the lack of rain, however many are resorting to eating leafless branches on dead shrubs and bushes. Some are even resorting to uprooting the invasive cactus species in Tsavo East N.P. In addition, aside from the perennial Galana River, all the natural water holes that the elephants rely on have been completely dry for the past couple of months. Those that survive must find the few small water holes that KWS and others are filling with water to push them through.

An elephant tries to dig for water in a completely dry water hole that he and many others had relied on a couple of months before.

As mentioned, many elephants are being forced to leave the Park in search of alternative food sources. Much of the time this would include roaming through the crop fields of Sagalla, however this would of course leave them empty stomached now. Instead, hundreds of elephants have opted to migrate to a nearby townships. One such township is that of Mackinnon, which has experienced a small amount of rain, therefore farmers were able to grow crops, and is nearby to a forest thick with green vegetation. This has caused havoc in the Mackinnon community, with brazen elephants moving through farms in broad daylight. KWS in the area is under-staffed, and during the peak in elephant activity they simply could not respond to all of the distress calls they received each day.

Hundreds of elephants have left Tsavo East N.P. in search of food, and many are now residing in a forested area in the farming area of Mackinnon.

Some farmers in Mackinnon also have irrigation, which means that even in drought they can grow crops for harvest. These farmers are now fearful that their hard work could soon be ruined within one night if hungry elephants reach their farms, just as they have seen for their unlucky friends in other areas of the township.

A farmer in Mackinnon stands proudly with her immaculately-laid crops. She is fearful that elephants will now raid her farm, as they try to find food around her community.

The elephants in Tsavo East N.P. are so weak now, and many are barely surviving. The farmers in Sagalla are similarly struggling, although they are resilient, and in tough times like this they band together to weather out the storm (or lack of). We can only hope that the much anticipated rains return in October and restore balance in the Tsavo Conservation Area, for the sake of both elephants and subsistence farming communities. One thing is known for sure though – climate change is altering our planet at an alarming rate, and its effects are seen far and wide, and by the most vulnerable of our people. In areas such as Tsavo that are already naturally very dry, it is inevitable that future droughts are only going to become more frequent and last longer. We must all do our part to tackle climate change, to ensure future generations can enjoy and live in these amazing places.

Comments are closed