Elephants, Other Iconic Animals Dying in Kenya Drought

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi
for National Geographic News
September 16, 2009

More than 60 African elephants and hundreds of other animals have died so far in Kenya amid the worst drought to hit the country in over a decade, conservationists announced.

So-called "long rains" that usually fall in March and April failed this year, and some areas have now been in drought conditions for almost three years. No one knows why the drought has been so bad. Many attribute it to global warming, but others say it is simply part of the long-term weather cycle in East Africa.

Since January, at least 38 dead elephants have been found in the area around the Laikipia highlands and Samburu National Reserve, officials said. (See pictures of Samburu's elephants.)

In addition, 30 baby elephants have been reported dead so far this year in Amboseli National Park.

Some of the animals died of thirst, while others starved due to lack of vegetation or succumbed to diseases or infections due to weakened immune systems.

Many of Kenya's other iconic species—including lions, crocodiles, zebra, and wildebeests—are also suffering in drought conditions and could start dying at worrisome rates, wildlife officials say.

"The elephants are very smart animals," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of the Nairobi-based nonprofit Save The Elephants. "But I think they are going to die in large numbers, and that goes for the other grazers and browsers, too."

Helping Hands

Conservation officials have been working to protect some animals from the effects of the drought by feeding or relocating them.

At Mzima Springs in Tsavo West National Park, rangers have been laying out hay for hippopotamuses to eat.

The Kenya Wildlife Service has moved ten white rhinoceros from Lake Nakuru to Nairobi National Park, in part because the parched land can't support the large animals.

And the Nairobi-based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust reports that recently it has been bringing an average of seven baby elephants a month to its orphanage. Normally the facility receives seven elephants in a year.

Continued on Next Page >>


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