Kenyans are waiting for the El Niño rains anticipated between now and December 2009 with mixed feelings. Inasmuch as the El Niño is itself a natural disaster that in it's ‘moderate’ form is expected to displace at least 100,000 people and leave 750,000 in need of humanitarian aid according to IRIN, most Kenyans actually want this El Niño.
Normally, people would be running scared at the prospect of drowning or losing property and livestock in the expected El Niño flooding, but not this year. The drought in the East African nation has been hard and long – with at least 10 million Kenyans facing hunger (IRIN) – and the populace will take anything with water in it: Even a natural disaster.
American national, Katherine Herzog, commenting on an Ewaso Lions blog post titled ‘When will it rain, the drought persists in Samburu’, said “A ‘moderate’ El Niño rain event will hopefully transform the region which you skillfully and painfully describe. Although rain on hard, dry ground usually means flooding – rain in any form will be a boon for man, livestock and wildlife alike.
Wildlife is normally more tolerant to drought than humans and livestock but wild animals are starting to die. Ewaso Lions described the situation in early September:
Unfortunately, due to the lack of water, waterbuck, impala, buffalo, warthog, cattle, donkeys and sheep have begun to die everyday. Large groups of close to 20 warthogs that were around in April and May have now reduced to 1 or 2 warthogs and even they have begun to die. I watched a crocodile die the other day. He had come out of hibernation and literally dropped dead outside his hole. More animals will die over the next few weeks reducing the species numbers and diversity within the area. Pressure on the reserves from livestock will continue. Animals are dying; every week, every day, every minute.
Predators are however doing well now that there are many weak and dying animals making easy prey for them. There is however the increasing risk of being hunted down by cattle herders as more and more livestock are driven into the wildlife reserves in search of pasture and water. The presence of livestock in wildlife territory means that they are likely to be preyed upon by predators, which then will be killed, in retaliation, by the herders. Ewaso Lions blog adds:
However, due to the drought and the river drying up, there is more pressure on the reserves from livestock, increasing the human threat to lions and we are working hard to try and monitor all individual lions inside the reserves.
This was in early September and although a little rain has been reported in western Kenya, with some flooding occurring in Kenya's third city Kisumu, El Niño is not here yet. The drought continues. Even in the so called ‘wildlife capital’ of the world, Nairobi National Park, the situation is no better. The water holes are drying, there is no grazing or browsing vegetation, and the situation is worrying. Will Knocker posted on October 7 saying:
Even giraffe -supremely adapted to life on the African plain- are getting hungry & wandering far & wide in search of browse -including to my garden in the Silole Sanctuary. In the Langata Forest some of their favourite food shrubs - Rus natalensis -has died owing to drought.
The drought is still continuing here, and the animals and people are struggling badly. Everyone hopes rain will fall soon and bring back some life to the parched land. The water hole near to our neighbouring lodge Ol Donyo Wuas is constantly visited by many elephants, as well as very thin herbivores like these zebras, all looking for the scarce water.
There is no grass left to be eaten anywhere, and the wildlife and livestock are starving. These hills were once covered with long green grass – now there is nothing for the animals to eat.
In the Mara wildlands that flank the world-famous Masai Mara National Reserve, the Predator Aware blog reports difficult times for the Maasai community:
The Masai Mara communities are under huge pressure with the ongoing drought and the loss of cattle as pastoral ism is their number one income earner at present followed by tourism.
In response to a comment from one of the blog readers, Predator Aware laments the dwindling of the wildlands lifeline, the Mara River, and utters the same prayer that is on the lips of all these bloggers:
Yes the Mara River is seriously low . The degradation of the Mau Forest which is the headwaters of the Mara River as well as the drought have caused this. Rain is the only healer and we hope it comes soon.