October was a difficult month, with the worsening drought claiming huge numbers of elephants.
Nearly every flight in the southern sector of Tsavo East revealed at least one new carcass sighting, and it was not uncommon to find three or four carcasses in a single flight. Tragically, many of the lives claimed were of juvenile elephants as well as several old females with long, magnificent ivory.
It is important to note that rather than a lack of water, it was a lack of food that has been killing elephants and other wildlife. Many parts of the Park received inadequate rainfall last season, so browse and vegetation was already limited. To further complicate matters, early on in the year, a massive influx of livestock was illegally herded into the Park, escaping severe drought in other parts of the country. The livestock prematurely depleted natural waterholes and vegetation, forcing wildlife to concentrate around a drastically reduced number of water sources both natural and man-made
The silver lining is that the teams were able to provide a second chance for several elephant calves that lost their mothers to the drought, two of which were spotted during routine aerial patrols. With assistance from the helicopter, the calf was airlifted directly to the Nairobi orphanage to be cared for, something that would not have been possible in the past without the use of the new Eurocopter.
The helicopter also had a busy month including darting and treating an elephant with an injured foot in the Maasai Mara, whilst Tsavo-based operations included retrieving two sets of ivory, discovering and destroying many shooting blinds and snares set near watering holes as well as shooting platforms in trees and a number of poachers’ camps. Two poached elephants were also discovered.
Elsewhere, cattle intrusion into the Parks remains an issue; however, KWS has been successfully pushing cattle out of Tsavo East and making arrests of herders. Tsavo West and the Chyulus had larger numbers of cattle during the month and sadly herders in the Chyulu Hills were able to start widespread fires, which raged on for much of the month.
Highlights in October included the eventual arrival of the rains in parts of the Park including the flooding of the seasonal Tiva River as well as the Athi River, which had nearly dried up, whilst over 1000 elephants were attracted to the corner of Kulalu Ranch for fresh water and browse.