From Drought to Jungle

What a joy it was to drive to Tsavo for a short Easter break in April 2010 and to witness, yet again, the power of Nature in the healing of the land

What a joy it was to drive to Tsavo for a short Easter break in April 2010 and to witness, yet again, the power of Nature in the healing of the land.   Kenya suffered from prolonged drought – arguably the worst ever in its history, which extended throughout 2008 and 2009.   for two years the country suffered either a serious shortfall or the complete failure of the anticipated two rainy periods in a year – the so-called Long Rains of April and May, which, whilst the main rains of higher altitudes, are in fact usually brief and sporadic in the semi desert habitats of Tsavo National Park and arid Northern frontier regions, and the “short” rains of October, November and December, which are the main rains for Tsavo and the Northern Frontier districts, but normally short in higher elevations.   The land was baked bare by the sun, lakes, rivers and waterholes dried, and animals, both domestic and wild, died in droves.   Desperate pastoralists either drove or ferried their starving livestock into all the Protected National Parks, including Tsavo, compromising the survival of wild animals by consuming dry season reserves of grass upon which wild grazers depend, occupying drying waterholes and driving elephants beyond the Park boundaries, where they became more vulnerable to human/wildlife conflict and poaching.   Domestic livestock also introduced the element of parasites and diseases never before seen in the elephant orphans that were saved and retrieved.

Losses of both domestic and wild animals were substantial – in some of the smaller National Parks, devastating and resident predators got a taste for beef, it being a lot easier to kill a enfeebled domestic cow than any wild animal whose senses have been keyed to survival throughout millennia.

The rains came in November 2009, breaking the drought.   They came either in the form of torrential downpours that caused flooding and wrecked havoc amongst rural human townships, but they proved a lifesaver for what wild animals could accommodate such a rapid natural change in both weather and temperature.   Many, unable to do so in a weakened condition, continued to die, but the fittest within the wild community survived having been subjected to natural selection, Nature’s most powerful survival recipe, eliminating the sick, the weak and the maimed so that only the fittest survive to perpetuate the species.  (Domestic livestock are much more fragile and vulnerable, since humans, rather than Nature, have played God and decide who should live and who must die).

The rains continued throughout December, January, February and March, and although isolated and patchy up country, were mercifully widespread and plentiful in Tsavo.   There, after 12 inches of rain, the white creeper Ipomoea mombassana appears and rapidly proliferates almost overnight as though by magic, creeping, climbing and falling  in a spectacular profusion of pure white blossoms.   It is Nature’s bandage to cover the parched and wounded landscape after severe droughts, shielding seedlings and providing instant manna from heaven for all, and especially the elephants who require about 300 lbs of vegetation per day.  Whereas Europe turned pure white in a deep freeze of snow, suddenly Tsavo turned white in a profusion of blossoms.  Wild flowers began to peep through soft fresh emerging annual and perennial grasses as did the flowering shrubs such as the purple Erithroclemis from which the bees make beautiful honey; the pure blue Pentanisias and Commelinas, wild Hibiscus and Gladioli species of mauve, red and yellow, Abutilons and yellow Pelargoniums, even the rare and foul smelling insect eating plants such as Edithcolea grandis rose from the earth, their scent emulating the smell of death that so recently had been prevalent.    Suddenly, everywhere there were splashes of colour amongst a fiesta of greens of every hue -  the pale bluish greens of the Commiphoras and Boscias, the yellowish greens of the Acacias, and the bold bright greens of other tree species such as the Kigelias and the Giant Baobabs which towered over all others.   Represented in Nature’s palette was every shade of green in an extravagance that gladdened the heart.   All this natural splendour had the musical accompaniment of birdsong and the hive of insect activity, as all species set about the task of renewal and reproduction.  

By the time we arrived in Tsavo for Easter, our spirits were lifted and renewed.   The River Athi which had remained completely dry for many months during the drought, was now a raging torrent and so noisy that one had to shout in order to be heard above its fury.   Fortunately, the Trust House was built high above its level on a natural rocky kopje, Daphne and David having experienced flooding of that nature in l961 when they were stranded on the North Bank for 3 long months, stuck between the flooding Tiva and Athi and unable to cross the causeway that David had built and which provided the only access to the Northern section of the Park..