Puzzle of 40 elephant deaths as KWS blames drought
Posted Wednesday, July 15 2009 at 19:18
- Herders say cactus fruit is killing the animals but rangers reject this theory
The drought currently ravaging the country has not spared wildlife especially in Northern Kenya.
In the past two months, over 40 elephants have died in Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu districts in what was initially thought to be a disease outbreak.
However, several laboratory tests carried out by Kenya Wildlife Service veterinary officers have not detected any disease so far.
KWS officials fear that if it does not rain soon, more may die due to malnutrition.
“Initially, we thought there was an anthrax outbreak but so far, the tests we have conducted have ruled this out and there is no cause for alarm,” said senior KWS scientist in charge of elephant programme, Mr Moses Litoloh.
Mr Litoloh, who together with veterinary doctors camped in the region for two weeks where the deaths have been reported, said the only probable reason the animals were dying is drought.
“Preliminary investigations reveal that the elephants have not been getting enough fodder especially the young ones. But we are doing more investigations and we have taken samples from sickly animals in Doldol area, Mpala and Borana Ranches,” he said.
He added that they have also taken away carcasses for post-mortem examinations.
The affliction is mostly affecting elephants aged between two and eight years leading to conclusions that they are unable to get enough feed.
“Young elephants are unable to keep up the pace with their mothers while grazing. They are also not able to browse tall trees which are the only source of food left,” noted the scientist.
The death of the elephants have been reported in Ol Donyiro division in Isiolo district, Mukogondo division of Laikipia North district and Waso division in Samburu East district. Last week, two more young elephants died in Makurian area.
An adult elephant consumes about 300kg of food daily.
Laikipia has the largest number of wildlife outside national parks in the country. The animals roam freely in the plateau and compete for fodder with livestock.
But in the past few months, the ground has been left bare by domestic animals that have been driven into the region by pastoralists migrating from Samburu and Isiolo in search of pasture.
The herdsmen with over 100,000 animals are now grazing in Mt Kenya.
Mr Litoloh said the deaths are only being experienced in the region and attributes this to the prevailing weather in the three districts.
He added that there is nothing KWS can do at the moment to stop further deaths but expressed optimism that it would rain soon to solve the natural calamity.
However, residents of Laikipia believe that the young elephants are dying after consuming a fruit from a cactus plant found in the area.