Despite the recovery so far, the longer term outlook for Amboseli’s wildlife is far from secure. I only counted 358 elephants, down sharply from earlier in the season. With some 1,300 elephants dispersed out of the park and farmers and herders facing a harsh season, conflict has become the biggest hurdle to conserving elephants in Amboseli. The falling numbers in the park reflect their heavy grazing impact on the swamps. The sedges have been grazed down all along Simek and over most of Longinye Swamp. Open water and green weeds now dominate the wetlands. The open water is still expanding and has pushed fresh floods northwards alongside the Namanga Road.
On the downside, I counted nearly 7,000 cattle and over 1,000 sheep and goats in the park, the biggest influx in many years. Several herds had pushed into the middle of Longinye swamp, others were scattered across Kalunyet and large herds were watering in the park. The long rains in southern Kenya were below average and the weak rebound due to heavy grazing has created an acute shortage of pasture. Tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and goats have pushed deep into Tsavo West National Park and the Chyulus Hills.
The pressure on Amboseli will continue to mount even with good rains. The influx of livestock has rapidly depleted the abundant grass reserves at the start of the dry season. If not for the flooding and new growth in the swamps, this season would be harsh for zebra and wildebeest too.
I anticipate that with livestock numbers fully recovered from the 2009 drought due in part to animals purchased and imported from elsewhere, the pressure on Amboseli will thwart a full wildlife recovery and raise the specter of another drought. The reasons why, are explained in the following news section on the growing causes of drought in Amboseli.