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|AMBOSELI CONSERVATION PROGRAM
Dr. David Western, known as Jonah, has spent 55 years conserving the African savannas. At the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory on April 27th at 6:00 pm, he will discuss how changing views of nature are transforming conservation in our human-dominated age. Attendees can expect valuable insights from this renowned expert.
For more information click here.
The Amboseli Conservation Bulletin: Herders perspectives on the impact of the 2022-2023 drought and coping tools
ACP commissioned Sakimba Kimiti to conduct a questionnaire survey in collaboration with the resource assessors to gather herders’ views of the intensity of the 2022 drought and their strategic responses compared to the 2009 drought. The current drought is still ongoing and will be monitored until the rains begin, and beyond, to look into how herders manage the recovery phase. The first edition of the Amboseli Conservation Bulletin for 2023 is intended to inform the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust, Southern Rangelands Coalition and Kajiado County about how herders are adapting to recurrent droughts and suggest successful strategies which can be scaled up to avoid future large-scale losses of livestock and rangeland degradation.
The first edition of the Amboseli Conservation Bulletin for 2023 is available for download below.
Herders and wildlife face an extended severe drought in Amboseli after poor short rains
David Western, Victor N. Mose, David Maitumo, Immaculate Ombongi, Sakimba Kimiti, Winfridah Kemunto, Samuel Leikanaya, Paul Kasaine, Sunte Kimiti and Julius Muriuki
Herders in the Amboseli ecosystem face an extended drought after the poor short rains in November brought a short respite. Most families moved their herds to Chyulu Hills and Ukambani to take advantage of the localized rains. Some herders moved as far as 150 kilometers to Mutha and areas north of Tsavo East National Park. The migrations saw a slight improvement in cattle body condition and market prices.
However, the large concentrations of animals from as far off as the Rift Valley and Narok quickly used up the localized pastures. Coupled with the cost of leasing grazing rights in Ukambani and watering their animals, most herders soon moved their cattle back to Amboseli to graze in the permanent swamps. In our February aerial count, we recorded 10,000 livestock in Amboseli National Park. Were it not for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) granting herders access to swamp grazing under supervision, thousands of cattle would have died.
The situation for wildlife is somewhat better than livestock. The scattered short rains around Amboseli in November temporarily drew zebra, wildebeest and elephants out of the park. Coupled with the outward migration of livestock, the swamps sedges recovered sufficiently to improve wildlife body condition and prevent further deaths.
Despite scattered rains in December, Kajiado County remains drought-stricken, as shown in the satellite greenness map for February. Herders migrated to the localized green flushes on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, the Chyulus Hills and Ukambani to the north. The heavy concentrations of livestock from across southern Kenya and costly grazing fees in Ukambani saw herders move their cattle back to Amboseli to graze the permanent swamps in the national park.
Outlook in the coming weeks
We are resuming the red alert for the current drought after the brief improvement to amber in December. This means the red alert conditions will continue far longer than in 2009 drought when heavy livestock and wildlife deaths and good short rains in November produced a flush of good pasture which ended the drought.
Given the grave outlook for livestock, herders should sell whatever animals they can and focus on their prime animals to avoid starvation and see them through to the long rains. The school feeding programs supported by NGOs in the Amboseli area should be resumed and expanded to ensure children stay in school and relieve the hardship on their families.
The outlook for wildlife is less dire, given the slight recovery in swamp grazing and in body condition. The mortality of zebra and wildebeest will likely remain low, provided the long rains arrive late March or early April. If, however, the livestock influx grows and moves from the peripheral swamps to the central portions used by wildlife, the outlook for wildlife will rapidly worsen too. KWS should ensure livestock use only the peripheral swamps to spare the central areas for wildlife and minimize conflicts.
The prolonged heavy grazing and resulting heavily degraded pastures across the Amboseli ecosystem since sedentarization began in the 1990s has severely reduced grassland productivity. Periods of severe pasture shortage have increased (Figure 4) and livestock productivity has declined (Figure 2). The outlook will worsen with the subdivision unless provisions are made to keep large areas open for livestock and wildlife grazing.
We suggest that once the rains resume, the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust on behalf of the landowners, KWS and conservation organizations take stock of the lessons learned from the current drought, restore pasture health and avoid losses to livestock and wildlife.
Download the full Amboseli Ecosystem Outlook Report below.
Many herders and crop farmers, based on my observations in Eselengei group ranch, have never experienced such a severe drought. To supplement the lack of grass, livestock are given commercial feeds and hay. A sack of flour meal costs between Ksh. 1600/= and Ksh. 3000/=, depending on quality. Following some rain, herds migrated to Magadi, Narok, Machakos, Kiboko, and our neighboring country, Tanzania; they are almost all returning to their permanent homesteads to feed the remaining livestock with commercial feeds.
Very few herds have lactating cows, and those that do, don’t sell their milk; instead, it is used for household purposes. Older calves are separated from their mothers as the drought bites on. The current livestock body condition ranges from 1-4 on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being the best. A mature animal cost around Ksh. 30,000, while sheep and goats’ cost Ksh. 4,000.
Many children have not attended school because their parents rely on rainfall to cultivate subsistence crops. Those in school are the children of parents who rely on irrigation and formal employment. Herders in Eselengei estimate that they have lost 70% of their livestock.
The entire Amboseli ecosystem is experiencing a severe drought, which has resulted in the deaths of livestock and wildlife. As a result, pastoralists have been forced to migrate all over the region, some as far as Narok and the coastal lowlands.
Livestock are starving, prompting herders to look for areas where it has recently rained, such as the Chyulu Hills, Ukambani and Kibwezi. The cost of purchasing livestock feed and grass has been a financial burden for many people. Herders in Kimana who once had over 200 cows now have less than 80.
The dairy production from cattle has also been severely impacted, with a lack of pastures causing a decline in the livestock's body condition. The market prices for livestock have decreased due to their condition and falling demand. The herders are struggling to pay for their children's education. Some parents have been forced to withdraw their children from school due to a lack of fees.
The current drought has resulted in livestock deaths and desperation among herders in Mbirikani. Irrigation water sources are rapidly depleting in areas such as the Chyulu hills. Overgrazing by large herds of cattle from the ranches of Matapato, Eselenkei, and Olgulului has depleted the available pastures in the Chyulu hills. These herds have now moved into Tsavo National Park and the Isinet swamp near Kimana Sanctuary, resulting in a high concentration of cattle in these two locations.
The migration of wild animals, particularly elephants, to these areas has resulted in a conflict over limited resources between the animals, livestock, and humans. Crops in the Isinet, Kimana, and Kalesirua areas have been raided. Market prices for bulls range from Ksh. 30,000 to 50,000, and young calves and other cattle range from Ksh. 20,000 to 35,000, as a result of the influx of livestock. If no rain falls, prices are expected to fall further in February and worsen by March.
The pastoralists have had a difficult time. There hasn't been any rain in three years. Only light showers have fallen during the months when rain is traditionally expected. As a result, there are few or no grasses in all areas. Reports from the OOGR indicate that some herders have lost close to 75% of their livestock. Wildlife has not been spared either. Many zebras, gazelles, giraffes, wildebeests, and even elephants have died as a result of the drought.
Since vegetation has disappeared and almost all grasslands now remain bare grounds, herders are buying crushed cones locally known as pumba, in addition to hay, and cone plants from farms under irrigation to feed our livestock. With all these efforts livestock are still dying. A double loss!
Following the light rain showers, herders have taken their livestock to the Chyulu hills, Oltepesi, Enkii, Oloile, Lemong'o, Olng'arua Loosinet, and Ngoirienito. The livestock body condition scores remain below average. Their prices continue to drop as children get back to school. The drought has also led to malnutrition in children as milk yields dry up.
By David Western, Victor N. Mose, David Maitumo, Immaculate Ombongi, Sakimba Kimiti, Winfridah Kemunto, Samuel Leikanaya, Paul Kasaine, Sunte Kimiti and Julius Muruiki
This report is an update on our drought outlook bulletin of December after brief and localized rains fell in recent weeks. We use our standard measures of the state of pastures, livestock and wildlife to capture the current conditions and the outlook for the remainder of the dry season.
Figure 1: NDVI (greenness) maps from satellite imagery showing recovery from the extreme 2022 drought is weak compared to 2009, reflecting both poor rains and continued very heavy stocking rates. Herders moved their herds to the scattered rains in the Chyulus Hills and base of Kilimanjaro in search of fresh pastures in December, temporarily suspending the need for expensive supplementary feeding.
Figure 2: Despite slight improvements in livestock body conditions in early 2023, milk yields remain at zero. Body condition will likely fall with the extended drought and milk production won’t recover for several more months until new calves are born.
Figure 3: Scattered rains drew livestock out of Amboseli in December and early January just enough to produce some regrowth in the swamps used extensively during the drought. There have been no new wildlife deaths as a result, apart from a few sick animals. The regrowth will see wildlife survive with few losses in the next few weeks. But with the pasture barometer remaining in the hard times, wildlife deaths will resume if the long rains are delayed. Note that Amboseli would have faced a severe drought as early as 2017 had it not been for heavy rains in 2018 and 2020, similar to the heavy rains which delayed droughts in 1998 and 2001.
Figure 4: Livestock market prices in Amboseli. Prices fell throughout the 2022 drought. The last three months saw a slight increase in prices as herders sold better quality stock to pay for the school fees in the new academic year.
Figure 5: Grazing pressure gauge comparisons of the 2022 and 2009 droughts. Early 2022 started with favorable pasture conditions but an influx of 150,000 cattle into the Amboseli ecosystem rapidly depleted fodder creating a drought comparable to 2009 by August when wildlife began dying of starvation. The weak rains and continued heavy grazing pressure in January 2023 compared to the strong recovery in 2009 means the drought will continue in the coming months and see livestock condition fall once more.
Figure 6: An aerial view of Longinye Swamp behind Ol Tukai Lodge showing the extensive flooding in the swamps which helped carry wildlife through the drought with far few deaths than in 2009 when the swamp contracted during the drought.
Outlook in the coming weeks
We conclude that drought conditions will continue and intensify in Amboseli, across much of southern Kenya and into northern Tanzania in the coming weeks. With the few pockets of greenery in the Chyulus and slopes of Kilimanjaro nearly depleted, livestock conditions will decline sharply and supplementary feeding is likely to resume even as market prices for animals fall and hay and other feed prices rise. Wildlife deaths should remain low for the next few weeks, but calving could be set back months due to the emaciation condition of females during the drought.
Reflections of a community researcher at ACP
Working with the Amboseli Conservation Program I have gained important skills in understanding the importance of regular monitoring of the various aspects of the rangelands critical to the survival of people, livestock, wildlife and the environment. I have learnt about and developed social and ecological tools for monitoring the health of the rangelands and impact on families.
More recently, I’ve learned how to report on the 2022 drought using graphics and pictorial images to reach the majority of the online community. The images are an efficient way to reach a wide audience and youths especially, but also decision and policy makers too. A one-stop platform using open-source and interactive tools boost up-take, decision-making and feedback.
Stakeholders within rangelands have come to acknowledge that rangeland management is complex, influence as it is by physical, social, cultural and economic factors on a large scale operating over decades. A combination of scientific approaches and local knowledge helps us assess and monitor the health of the Amboseli ecosystem for people and wildlife. I am completing my PhD exams at present and, once done, will produce a fuller assessment of the drought from a community perspective.
By David Western, Victor N. Mose and ACP team
We wish to give a brief update on the drought before the holiday break. We shall give a fuller account and outlook in the New Year.
Having understood from forecasts that the short rains were over when we posted our last report on 2nd December, Amboseli did get some expected scattered showers. Good rains fell on the Chyulus Hills and the foot slopes of Kilimanjaro around Endonet.
How will these welcomed and unexpected rains affect the outlook for livestock and wildlife in the coming three months or so before the long rains?
For livestock, the green flush in the Chyulus and slopes of Kilimanjaro has relieved the immediate pressure on herds moving there. Herders can cut back on the amount of supplementary feed for now, but not for long. The brief bursts of rain elsewhere have barely greened up pastures heavily degraded by the drought. Further, large herds of cattle have once again moved in from Matapatu to the west. The heavy concentrations are grazing down the grasses in the Chyulus and Endonet as fast as they grow.
Unless there are outlier rains in January, the drought will harden quickly and herders will have to feed the cattle hay and grain once more to get them through to the long rains. The Amboseli Ecosystem Trust and NGO partners met in early December to take stock of the outlook for livestock keepers. Reports from the field noted herders losing hope of saving many animals in the coming few months. With the school feeding program ending and children and families facing harsh times ahead, AET resolved to resume the program until the long rains. An appeal is being sent out to NGO partners.
The outlook for wildlife is somewhat better than livestock, given their far smaller herds, flexibility in tracking the green flushes, and ability to get by on sparser forage. Zebra and wildebeest have taken advantage of the green flush in the Chyulus and the scattered showers around Amboseli. Large numbers of cattle, wildebeest and zebra attracted by the green flushes left Amboseli. The exodus has temporarily relieved the pressure on the Amboseli swamps. On 13th December when David Western and David Maitumo did a count of the Amboseli Basin, they found few wildebeest and zebra and counted only 152 elephants, the lowest in years. They noted almost no new wildlife deaths.
With few animals left in the park, the pastures in and around the swamps are bouncing back. By the time the wildlife herds return, the swamp grazing is likely to be sufficient to sustain the herds for some while, perhaps until the long rains.
The 2022 drought has been punishing for wildlife and livestock. In our ACP monitoring program, we anticipated the drought early in the year and posted an extreme drought alert in May. We have since posted further updates on the ACP website.
Our reports were presented to the governor, Kajiado in August and to the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust (AET) and Southern Rangelands Coalition (SRC) at the end of September. We were asked to produce a full report once the outcome of the short rains became clear.
The report calls attention to the growing impact of drought, the underlying causes and the changing perceptions and responses among herders. It calls for prompt action at local, county and national levels to prevent land fragmentation and degradation causing the extreme droughts affecting the rangelands.
The full report can be downloaded below.
By David Western and Victor N. Mose
Amboseli Conservation Program (ACP) has been working closely with many partners over the past two years to forge conservation coalitions able to monitor Amboseli and southern Kenya landscapes. The aim of the coalitions is to keep the rangelands open and viable for wildlife and pastoral livestock. Covid-19 slowed the enthusiasm and momentum built up in 2020.
Like so many collaborative efforts, it often takes a crisis to spur action. Warnings of an extreme drought posted by ACP on its website in May prompted a rapid response by the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust (AET) and the Southern Rangeland Coalition (SRC). The responses included school feeding programs to avoid children’s education being further set back after two-years of Covid-19 disruption. AET and SRC then met in back-to-back meetings in Amboseli late October to take stock of the drought and prevent a recurrence of destructive droughts and floods pummeling pastoral communities and wildlife populations.
At both meetings ACP gave presentations on the build up to the intensified droughts and floods in Amboseli, and the ecological dislocations across southern Kenya. Both meetings called for information platforms to track and monitor the rangelands, issue early warning alerts, and communicate the information for AET and SRC to plan and manage the rangelands more effectively in the face of land use and climate changes.
The results of both the AET and SRC meetings can be downloaded below.
By David Western, Victor N. Mose and David Maitumo
Following our last posting of 15th October, we are issuing an interim report on the impact of the drought on wildlife losses so far prior to a detailed report to be submitted to the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust (AET) and partners and to the Southern Rangelands Coalition (SRC) in late November. Reports of the AET and SRC meetings called in response to the drought are posted on our website.
The Naivasha Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) also prepared a preliminary report on the Impacts of the Current Drought on Wildlife in Kenya on 29th September. The report noted that 512 wildebeest, 381 zebra, 51 buffalo and 205 elephants in the principle protected areas had died of drought so far. The report acknowledged the deaths to be minimum estimates and projected a steeper loss as the drought deepened. Amboseli was cited as the worst hit park. WRTI also called for more systematic counts of wildlife deaths.
The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife called on the Conservation Alliance of Kenya on 4th November to submit a report on wildlife mortalities around the country, and to recommend immediate and longer-term steps to combat drought. Amboseli Conservation Program (ACP) data contributed substantially to the report. A copy of the report presented to the Cabinet Secretary, Ms. Peninah Malonza, and Principal Secretary, Dr. Susan Koech, by the southern and central Kajiado conservation partners will be posted on the ACP website.
ACP has regularly posted the results of wildlife and livestock aerial censuses across eastern Kajiado over many years. In 2009, anticipating a severe drought, we added carcass counts to our regular the ground counts, tracked the course of the drought and, in conjunction with KWS, convened a meeting to consider measures to avert human-wildlife conflict and ensure a post-drought recovery of the depleted wildebeest and zebra populations.
It is worth pointing out in that estimates of drought losses can’t be made simply by driving around the worst hit areas and counting carcasses. Estimating the number of deaths and drought recovery prospects calls for a systematic method of counting both the live and dead animals simultaneously. Here is why:
With these points in mind, ACP counts 80 plots randomly located in Amboseli National Park and across the dry season wildlife range (Figure 1). Each plot is 300 meters in radius. All animals and livestock as well as carcasses are counted by David Maitumo using binoculars and a rangefinder. The random sample plots allow us to project the total population numbers and carcasses of each species.
Here are the results of the live numbers and carcasses for species:
The carcass counts reflect the WRTI report of the large number of animals dying of drought in Amboseli. The figures are far higher than previous estimates because carcasses were counted intensively in small sample areas over the entire dry season range. The carcass counts in the case of wildebeest are underestimates due to the number of young animals dying early in the drought and being partially or completely consumed by predators. Allowing for such carcasses removed early in the drought, the mortality for wildebeest is likely around 15% and zebra about the same.
We have used the total areal counts of October 9th 2022, for elephants, buffaloes and hippo numbers. Estimated losses of elephants and buffalo are 5%. We observed no giraffe death in the park. Reedbuck numbers increased sharply in Amboseli in recent years with the expansion of the swamps have suffered a modest loss. The losses for Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, impalas and other small species are negligible. We have not given any figures for livestock mortality at this point. Sakimber Kamiti is collecting information directly from herders and will give estimates for cattle, sheep and goats when compiled.
As high and alarming as the number of carcasses is in Amboseli, and as distressing as the hundreds of carcasses is to tourists, we need to keep an eye on the number of live animals and rate of decline to assess the impact of drought and prospects for recovery. Here the results are more reassuring.
The only species suffering substantial losses so far are zebra, wildebeest, buffaloes and elephants. Compared to the 2009 drought when over 95% of the wildebeest, 60% zebras, two third of the buffaloes and a quarter of the elephants died, the current drought is far less severe. We started the current drought with far larger populations of each species, current mortality rates are far lower, and the swamps are far more extensive than in 2009. In many places the swamps are still expanding and providing fresh forage.
We shall be conducting further counts in the next two weeks and will produce a comprehensive drought analysis to the AET, KWS and partners, and the SRC, at the end of November.
By David Western, Victor N. Mose, David Maitumo, Immaculate Ombongi, Sakimba Kimiti, Winfridah Kemunto, Samson Leikanaya, Paul Kasaine, Sunte Kimiti and Julius Muruiki.
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Extreme drought alert
The Amboseli Conservation Program (ACP) began posting early warnings of hard times ahead in March of this year, based on a count of livestock and wildlife in eastern Kajiado. Until then, despite poor short rains, unseasonal showers in January and February, and grazing rotation plans on the group ranches, there remained sufficient reserve to see resident livestock and wildlife herds well through the year. The March count presented a far more pessimistic outlook. Over 150,000 cattle had moved into the Amboseli region from across southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The influx doubled the resident cattle population and used up the surplus grazing. The outlook quickly worsened. If the long rains in April and May were poor, Amboseli would face a severe long dry season. When it became evident that the long rains were faltering, ACP issued an extreme drought alert in May. The alert showed pasture condition worsening rapidly and approaching those of 2009 drought when three quarters of the cattle, two thirds of sheep and goats, over ninety five percent of the wildebeest and two thirds of the zebras died of starvation.
In response to ACP’s extreme drought alert, the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust (AET) convened an emergency response of group ranch representatives and conservation partners. The upshot was a school food program funded by Big Life and others to ensure children were fed and able to continue classes.
The ACP report was also delivered to Kajiado County governor, Joseph Ole Lenku, who, at his re-inauguration in August, announced the drought as top priority for his new administration. The governor followed through with a meeting of 160 politicians, county and government agencies and conservation organizations to take stock of the drought and take mitigating steps. Victor Mose presented a summary of ACP’s data on the long-term trends in livestock and wildlife and the deteriorating rangeland conditions. He showed that the 2009 drought in Amboseli alone amounted to over Ksh 3 billion in livestock losses. In response to the findings, the governor set up a task force to ensure such droughts would not recur.
The import of the ACP report also became the center point of an AET/ACC/ACP convened workshop in Amboseli on 28th September. The meeting to discuss the construction of a resource center at Nongotiak resolved that a meeting should be held at the start of every dry season. The meetings will bring together researchers, resource assessors, grazing committees, area leaders and KWS to appraise all available information and plan appropriate action to sustain the health of the rangelands, livestock and wildlife.
An expanded version of the ACP report to the governor also became the focal point of a meeting convened by the Southern Rangeland Coalition over the following two days. The meeting brought together the Taita-Taveta, Amboseli, South Rift and Mara lands owners associations, county officers, KWS and conservation bodies. The meeting concluded that the ACP monitoring and communication protocols should form a common platform for collecting, collating and communicating information for range management. As with the Amboseli Nongotiak Center, each association is urged to set up a community resource center where meetings can be held to amalgamate information and define responses.
Fuller reports on both the Nongotiak and SRC meetings will be issued shortly.
Conditions in Amboseli and across the southern rangelands have continued to decline sharply since the ACP’s May drought alert and follow-up report in August.
The grazing pressure index shows the 2022 pasture abundance in January was favorable compared to the 2009 drought. The influx of 150,000 cattle into Amboseli depleted forage reserves and pushed Amboseli into a red alert by May when ACP issued an extreme drought alert. By October the grazing pressure on pastures was higher than in 2009.
On a positive note, the livestock moving into Amboseli earlier in the year headed back to Tanzania, Matapatu, the Rift Valley and Narok as fodder ran out and the long rains created scattered growth across the region. By August many Amboseli herders had moved west following the retreating herds. By September most Amboseli residents had returned preferring to keep their animals close to home and feed them maize stalks, unga (maize flour) and hay to keep them alive. By late August through September, large herds of cattle and fewer sheep and goats were filing into Amboseli National Park for lack of grazing elsewhere. The inflow quickly used up the residual pastures and accelerated the movement of wildlife into the swamps used late season.
The EVI index compares the advance of extreme pasture conditions for 2022. Conditions across southern Kenya in January 2022 were far more favorable than in 2009 but deteriorated far more quickly due to large movements of livestock and heavy grazing across the region. Green depicts areas of residual green pasture, brown increasing pasture drying and pasture shortage.
Livestock milk yields and body conditions declined sharply in 2009 when over three quarters of the cattle population in the Amboseli region died. Milk yields and body condition began 2022 at far higher levels than 2009 but declined far more rapidly due to heavy grazing. Milk yields have fallen to 2009 levels. Body condition has been sustained above 2009 levels due to supplementary feeding. The supplementary feeding will ensure most animals survive the drought if the rains fall by November. If the rains fail in November, livestock mortality will rise steeply.
By September wildebeest calves and zebra colts were beginning to die of starvation, accelerated perhaps by disease and heavy parasite infestations. The early deaths were largely those of animals born this year, and most were picked clean by predators and vultures. By late September when David Western began a systematic count of dead and live animals, wildebeest deaths were around 10 percent of the population and zebra 6 to 7 percent. David Maitumo began a biweekly count two weeks late by which time the toll of wildebeest was 15 to 20 percent and zebra 10 percent. David will conduct a more accurate sample count of the entire Amboseli basin shortly.
The swamp sedges have been grazed so short that even the smaller species, including Thomson’s gazelle and warthog, have moved deep into the swamps to find grazing. The sparsity of forage in the national park has seen elephant numbers fall sharply as herds moved out in search of forage in the surrounding bushlands. Family herds have split up into small female and calf groups, sometimes only a mother and infant. The large buffalo herds have also split into small groups foraging widely on the sparse grazing lawns around and in the swamps. The large clusters of zebra and wildebeest found around the swamps late dry season are spaced out widely on the sparse pastures.
The weather forecasts for southern Kenya predict no rain through late October. What is the outlook for wildlife and livestock in the event that rains don’t fall until mid-November, as they did in breaking the drought in 2009?
We can only offer a tentative projection based on a comparison of present conditions with the 2009 drought.
By early October of 2009 over 55 percent of the wildebeest and 40 percent of the zebra had died, compared to 20 percent of wildebeest and 10 percent of zebra by the same date in 2022. This suggests that the losses will be far less than in 2009. Another contributing difference is the far higher populations in Amboseli now than in 2009. In 2022 the drought began with roughly 10,000 wildebeest and zebra compared to 7,000 in 2009. Further, the swamps were far smaller and shrinking fast in October 2009. In 2022 they are twice as large and still spreading with fresh inflows into the Longinye and Enkongo Narok springheads. The differences from 2009 suggest several thousand wildebeest and zebra will survive to mid-November, compared to fewer than 200 wildebeest, and 1,500 zebras in 2009. We also anticipate that as in 2009, the grasses will begin to bounce back and provide enough fodder to see the remaining herds as the populations fall. We are seeing a certain amount of “surplus killing” though, meaning lions and hyenas killing several animals and barely eating any. Though accounting for a small percentage of the deaths so far, the rate could accelerate as the herds decline and become weaker.
The outlook for livestock is very different in 2022 from 2009 due to the responses of herders in feeding their herds at home. By October 2009 most cattle calves had died and over 50 percent of the herd had succumbed to drought. In early October 2022 the death rate among cattle was still relatively low according to most field reports. Most animals will survive to mid-November if herders are able to afford supplementary feeding in the face of rapidly rising prices.
The next steps
ACP will continue to post regular bulletins and alerts and to engage KWS, community members around Amboseli and the Kajiado County government in the outlook and possible responses.
As ACP pointed out at the Nongotiak and SRC meeting, the pivotal point in the drought outlook will fall in mid-November. If the short rains look unpromising by then, the following few months will see huge losses of wildlife and livestock in Amboseli. If substantial rains have fallen or look likely by mid-November, the outlook will improve and post-drought recovery measures can begin. We do point out though that the start of the rains is likely to see a surge of new livestock and wildlife deaths due to cold stress and bloat on the fresh forage before a recovery begins. It will also be a year or so before emaciated animals recover sufficient to give birth, meaning milk yields will take months to recover.
ACP will present the current situation and projected outlook for wildlife and livestock at the mid-November meetings of AET and SRC to determine what action can and should be taken.
Amboseli Conservation Program