The worst drought in Kenya in forty years has killed almost 2% of the world’s rarest zebra and more elephants than normal in three months.
The drought is starving Kenya’s wildlife of typical food sources in their habitat. In their desperate search for nutrition, they roam increasingly near towns and villages, resulting in deadly conflicts with people.
Without action to rescue wildlife, or if the upcoming rainy season fails again, animals in many parts of Kenya could face an existential crisis, conservationists say.
“It’s a serious threat to us,” Andrew Letura, an officer at Grévy’s Zebra Trust (GZT), said at Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya.
Grévy’s zebras are larger than standard plains zebras and have narrower stripes and broader ears. They are the rarest in the species. In the 1980s, there were around 17,000 Grevy’s, but now there are only 3,000 only left, 2,500 of which are in Kenya, Letura said.
Since June, drought has killed about 40 Grevy’s. “If we are losing 40 within three months, what would that mean to the remaining population?”
GZT has started to feed Grevy’s zebras. “We are working hard around the clock to feed the numbers to make sure that we make the population survive through the drought,” Letura said, adding that they give the animals “a mixture of molasses, some salts, calcium, just to boost the quality of the hay.”
Rangers have counted eight times as many animals dead or too weak to stand, compared to a typical September, Benson Leyian, chief executive of Big Life Foundation, said. The Big Life Foundation works with local partners to protect conservation areas in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem of East Africa. Leyian also said that the Amboseli Trust for Elephants had recorded 50 elephants dead or missing.
Animal welfare organization Save the Elephants said it is finding a growing number of elephants killed by guns or spears, but with their tusks intact, which is a sign that they fell victim to conflict with humans in populated areas.
Overgrazing by farm animals is also destroying land and makes it harder for ecosystems to recover from drought, said David Daballen, field operations chief for Save the Elephants.
The next rains are expected in October-November in Kenya. The thought of a failing rainy season is frightening, Letura said, adding it would lead to a severe crisis.