November marked the start of the rains and the end of a very long drought in Tsavo. Whereas much of the country experienced heavy rainfall as a result of el Niño, Tsavo missed out. Unfortunately, more than 40 elephants known to the DSWT died due to the drought, and even more tragically, many of these died very suddenly after the onset of the first green vegetation. After months of malnutrition, their digestive systems could not handle the sudden change.
Illegal activities were generally very low in November, which is common for this time of year. When the rains come many would-be poachers, who are also subsistence farmers, return to their homes to cultivate their land. They are also influenced by the movement of wildlife, especially elephants, which spread out during the rains and become much more difficult to target. In some places both inside and outside the Parks, overgrazing has been so persistent over the years that there is nothing left to take root when it does rain. With no ground cover, millions of grass seeds are washed away, along with millions of tons of topsoil, so even in the height of the dry season, large areas still look like the surface of the moon.
Another characteristic of the rains in Tsavo is the annual increase in human-wildlife conflict. Dozens of elephants move out of the Parks and into community farmland, partly in search of tempting crops, but also following ancient migratory routes.
The helicopter was busy during the month, patrolling with the ground teams and the Dog Unit in areas with high elephant concentrations, landing at waterholes and deploying rangers and dogs to look for human signs (foot prints, shooting blinds and platforms, etc.) Although no fresh signs were found, several old shooting platforms and shooting blinds were discovered and destroyed.
Highlights during the month included the sighting of 10 out of 13 of Tsavo East’s rhinos in one flight – a very rare occurrence; finding a den of wild dog with puppies and of course, the rain, which transforms Tsavo from a desert into a veritable jungle.
You can read about these activities and more in our monthly Aerial Report: