The year 2009 has been one of the driest years on record throughout Kenya, and certainly the driest year ever recorded on the Trust land (Peregrine Conservancy) on the Athi boundary to Tsavo East National Park. Here the Trust built the “Saa Nane House” in memory of the late David Sheldrick, who was the famous Pioneer Warden of that 5,000 square mile stretch of arid country, originally known as The Taru Desert, but which became Tsavo East National Park. David devoted 30 years of his life to creating this very famous and prestigious National Park, and died in the service aged 56. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was created to honour his memory and perpetuate his conservation work, and the “Saa Nane House” is so named because “Saa Nane” was the name by which David was known throughout Kenya – i.e. Mr. 2 o’clock because he seldom took a break for lunch until at least 2 o’clock!
During this extremely dry year, rivers have been drying, exacerbated by the illegal logging of forest catchment areas, starving domestic livestock have invaded the Park in growing numbers, compromising the food reserves for hippos and other grazers, and exacerbating the loss of wildlife through starvation and drought. One of the most seriously affected species have been the hippos, who rely on water in which to submerge themselves during the day, and graze at night within reach of permanent water when conditions are cool and their skin cannot be damaged by exposure to sunlight. Literally hundreds of hippos have perished in Tsavo, even those at the famous Mzima Springs, and many occupying the remaining pools on the Athi river below the Saa Nane house on the Trust’s land, have also run very short of food.
The Trust has been helping the hippos, buffalos numerous other species by purchasing Lucerne from up country which was laid out along the sand banks. For many weeks months ago the hippos ignored it but suddenly one or two decided to taste this strange new food that appeared so unexpectedly and loved it. One or two hippos turned to 8 others, then increased to 14 as the word got round. Today no less than 48 of this quaint “River Horses” come running to line up below the banks for their Lucerne fix as soon as the hear the tractor approaching. Like Elephants, hippos are extremely intelligent animals, known as the Policemen of the Rivers, for there have been many instances recorded when they have come to the assistance of other animals either drowning or caught by crocodiles. We pray for rain, as the Athi river has now completely dried and the Hippos huddle in drying mud pools and every day counts.