LOOK: More Kenyan elephants die due to climate change than poaching, say officials


Dominic Naidoo, IOL

Date Published
Illegal ivory poaching once posed a significant threat to Kenya’s elephants. But now these gentle giants face an even more daunting risk – climate change.

Speaking on desiccated elephant carcasses found in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, officials said that the country’s worst drought in four decades is killing 20 times more elephants than poaching and that much of the park’s wildlife has fled in a desperate search for water.

When looking at wild elephants, the size of their home range is staggering. The home range for wild African elephants can extend up to 11 000 square kilometres, which is over 2.7 million acres.

They need this vast range to forage for up to 180 kilograms of food and they drink over 120 litres of water a day. But rivers, soil, and grassland are drying up, resulting in a barren and deadly environment.

The Washington Post reported at the end of July that within the last year alone, at least 179 elephants had died of thirst, whereas poaching had claimed the lives of fewer than 10, with Kenyan Tourism and Wildlife Secretary Najib Balala telling the BBC that “it is a red alarm.”

Balala suggested that so much time and effort has been spent tackling the issue of poaching that other environmental issues have been neglected.

“We have forgotten to invest in biodiversity management and ecosystems. We have invested only in illegal wildlife trade and poaching,” he said.

Kenyan officials have clamped down hard on poaching, which has seen the targeting of animals such as giraffes for their meat, bones, and hair, and elephants for their ivory tusks.

Substantial penalties for poachers, traders and financiers were introduced under an updated wildlife and conservation management act that took effect in 2014, with it being hailed for deterring criminals as wildlife populations rebounded across the country.

Outgoing Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, declared last September that the drought sweeping through the country and much of east Africa would be declared a national disaster as millions of people are facing famine and malnutrition.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said in July this year that it would provide close to $255 million in aid to Kenya.

This aid would include emergency food and support for farmers who have reportedly lost up to 70% of their crops, along with their livestock.