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Parched lands are forcing the Horn of Africa’s largest inhabitants to hunt further and harder for water, leaving orphans to fend for themselves.
In Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, home to Kenya’s second largest elephant population, the youngest are struggling to keep up with their herds. An influx of lost calves into elephant sanctuaries has followed record high temperatures and the worst drought for 40 years.
Silas Lepuipui, a keeper at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and a member of the Samburu pastoralist community which has grazed its wildlife on the land for generations, said that the situation felt desperate and intense.
His team is called out regularly by Namunyak’s communities to help the abandoned calves, who have often been separated from their mothers or fallen down wells.
“In the best cases, we wait with the young and hope that their herd returns,” Lepuipui said. “They are often tiny and call out non-stop until they are reunited.”
Occasionally, the herds fail to return as they search further afield for sustenance. More often, calves have to be rescued from wells that have been dug by the herd.
“The water table is now so low, the wells are getting deeper,” he said. One orphan, Sera, was a week old when she was pulled out of a hole. Sera could easily fit in the back of a 4×4 for the journey to Reteti , where she needed to be bottle-fed and cared for day and night.
“When they are so young they can’t be left for moment,” said Lepuipui. “The conditions are bad for us all.”
Another failed crop seasons is likely to see 20million people could go hungry in the Horn of Africa in the next year, aid organisations predicted.