On 10 February 2017, The Government of Kenya declared the ongoing, prolonged drought a National Disaster. Crop production had decreased significantly (e.g. Coastal region experienced a 99% decrease in Maize production), food insecurity had more than doubled (from 1.3 million to 2.7 million people as of May 2017) and more than half of the country’s water resources had dried up with an estimated 3 million people lacking access to clean water and mass loss of animals both livestock and wildlife.
One of the most affected regions of the country is the hirola’s geographical range. It has experienced the failure of three rainy seasons in a row with the current drought being the worst ever recorded. Frequency of drought has increased over the last 40 years with rainfall patterns fluctuating and becoming unpredictable and unreliable. These unfortunate trends in this region have led to failed rainy seasons, depressed rains and delays in onset of the rainy seasons. These recurrent dry spells have further led to the drying of water pans and rivers etc. Subsequently, competition for water between humans, livestock and wildlife has intensified as rainfall declined by 6.3mm/year or ca. 2.46mm total between 1970 and 2009.
The Kenya Meteorological Department forecasted poor rains throughout 2017. The short rains season that we experienced early this year was below the long term mean by about 40% and did not have much impact on the vegetation in hirola core areas such as Bura East, Sangailu, Gababa and Ishaqbini conservancies. As a result, lack of water has led to mass mortalities of wildlife following severe dry conditions. Some of the most affected species include the hirola antelope, the Grevy’s zebra, buffaloes and the coastal topi.
Even though some parts of the country received some rainfall at the end of May and part of June, the general drought situation across the hirola’s geographical region is still dire. According to the National Drought Management Authority of Kenya (NMDA), the average vegetation condition index for Garissa County (Our project area) is 23.31 with some areas experiencing severe vegetation deficit (NMDA advises implementation of intensive water trucking activities in these areas). The average vegetation condition index for Garissa County (Our project area) is way below the average range of >35 reported in the hirola’s geographic range in normal years.
As a consequence, and for example, we lost 23 hirola individuals due to drought within the last year in the hirola predator proof sanctuary alone. This is much higher than the average annual mortality of five individuals since the sanctuary was set up in 2012. Additionally, most watering holes within the hirola’s geographical range have gone dry and the few remaining ones are almost dry and cannot sustain the demand. Emaciated wildlife including hirola have become a common eyesore around water holes shared by humans, livestock and recently wildlife.
Currently, day time and Night time temperatures have been increasing over the hirola’s geographical range. Additionally, recent Short-term forecast (one week) of this region indicates sunny periods the whole day throughout the week while most parts of the country experience rainfall. With this trend, and with the early end to the poor March- May rainfall season, the extended dry period in the middle of 2017 will inevitably have a major impact on food security and survival of wildlife.
With support from The Columbus Zoo, The Houston Zoo, Rainforest Trust and others, we initiated emergency drought intervention measures. These measures include replenishing water holes, providing Lucerne and hay to hirola and other wildlife, enhancing community awareness on drought mitigation and developing better drought cycle management plans for the larger hirola’s geographical region. Our project aims to cushion both wildlife and livestock within the hirola’s range from further drought adversities until the next rains expected in November/December