Drought kills Kenya’s endangered wildlife

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Kenya’s worst dry weather in forty years has killed nearly two percent of the world’s rarest zebras in three months. During the same period, 25 times more elephants died than usual.

The drought is depriving Kenya’s famous wildlife of their usual food sources and bringing them closer to population centers. The ever-increasing search for food can lead to deadly conflicts between animals and humans.

Without interventions to protect wildlife or rain, animals in many parts of the East African country could face a crisis, conservationists say.

“It’s a serious threat to us,” said Andrew Letura, an animal observation officer at Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT). Grévy’s zebra is larger than a standard plains zebra and has narrower stripes and larger ears. These are the rarest species of zebra: there are only 3,000 left in the world — including 2,500 in Kenya.

The drought has killed around 40 Grevys since June – that’s the number of people expected to die over an entire year, Letura said. He spoke to Reuters at Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya.

Andrew Letura, Ecology and Monitoring Manager at Grevy’s Zebra Trust, kneels next to the carcass of an endangered Grevy’s zebra that died during drought in Samburu National Park, Kenya , September 23, 2022. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

“If we lose 40 in three months, what would that mean for the remaining population? ” He asked.

GZT began feeding Grevy’s zebras with hay shed on a mixture of molasses, salt and calcium, helping to reduce the number of deaths, according to the trust.

The situation in southern Kenya is also bad.

“Rangers counted eight times more animals dead or too weak to stand, compared to a normal September. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants recorded 50 dead or missing elephants,” said Benson Leyian, the head of the Big Life Foundation. The group works with local landowners to protect conservation areas and open journey of the Amboseli ecosystem.

The smell of death

In the nearby Kitenden Conservancy, the smell of dead animals is strong. This sometimes causes visitors to wear face coverings, a Conservancy officer said.

Some wild animals die at the hands of people.

“We are seeing a fivefold increase in incidents of people poaching for bushmeat, compared to other dry seasons,” Leyian said.

Another group, Save the Elephants, said they are finding increasing numbers of elephants being killed by guns or spearsbut with their tusks in place. Tusks are what poachers sell. Thus, experts say that these elephant deaths were due to conflicts with local people, not poaching.

The body of an elephant that died during drought is seen in Shaba National Reserve, Isiolo County, Kenya, September 22, 2022. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

The body of an elephant that died during drought is seen in Shaba National Reserve, Isiolo County, Kenya, September 22, 2022. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

The crisis is not just the result of the drought, experts say. Large numbers of farm animals devour the rangelands, said David Daballen, head of field operations for Save the Elephants. He added that the lack of grasses makes it harder for ecosystems to recover from drought.

The next usual seasonal rains are from October to November. GZT’s Letura doesn’t want to think about the possibility of the rain not coming.

“The situation is already bad. But that would make it a serious crisis,” he said. “The first words anyone says now is they’re praying for rain.”

I am Caty Weaver.

Ayenat Mersie reported this story for Reuters. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

journeynm an open area over which animals (such as livestock) can move and feed

spearnm a thrusting or throwing weapon with a long handle and a sharp head or blade

bushmeatnm meat from wild animals, especially in Africa and Asia

defensenm a very long, large tooth (like that of an elephant or walrus) that protrudes when the mouth is closed and is mostly used for digging and fighting

poachv. hunt or fish illegally

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