Field work is an exciting part of the day and this week alongside Long Term Monitoring I took part in the Mammal Census. Mammal census is the process in which all the mammals which have been identified to be living in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs reserves are counted and recorded on an almost daily basis for later data analysis. However, due to the current conflict we are only able to carry out census on the Samburu side. The censuses collect a lot of information about mammal behaviour throughout various seasons which helps with justifying the location of future wildlife corridors, ranger patrolling, establishing which plants are consumed and resource allocation and efficient wildlife management all round.
With a GPS, clip-board and pencil in hand we head off. From the dry conditions and look of things across the vast salt bush plains the animals seem to have migrated to the Northern areas. The short rains that showered the place have benefitted that area bringing to it fresh tufts of grass and leafy trees. When the plains are dry, elephants and other mammals may migrate out of the park or move up the more pristine hills to feed and drink. In the process these mammals chase Bat-eared foxes down to the plains. Though they are nocturnal they can sometimes be seen resting under the acacia during the day. Samburu North is a good location to observe them. Samburu West approaching West Gate is a good location to see leopards. At the mouth of river Ewaso Nyiro is usually frequented by the beautiful Grevys Zebra especially when they are not taking over the Samburu Oryx airstrip.
As we count the number of mammals in the Samburu National Park I’m also learning about the behaviour of elephants. They love to selectively strip bark off woody species such as the Acacia eliator particularly during the dry season such as now. They consume the cortex of the bark to cure themselves of stomach problems and assimilate the minerals that these barks contain. Man has also followed suit and has also been using the same bark and roots of the Acacia to cure stomach upsets and sexually transmitted diseases. Elephants have an innate sense of knowing how much of the bark to consume being careful not to overdose. Nevertheless, too many elephants in an area and the acacia trees begin to dry up and die. Some of the acacia that have been debarked or still have their barks are lined with chicken mesh to prevent elephants from excessively stripping bark from these trees.
The livestock in the park are consistently growing in number exceeding the wildlife that we should actually be seeing. Sometimes more than 1500 shoats and livestock can be counted in one day in Samburu National Reserve. Who is to say how many more there could be in Buffalo Springs. Their adverse effect is evident as the vegetation in the northern ranges has already been severely overgrazed. The grass cannot regrow even with a little downpour as the soil has been rendered infertile. In order to rehabilitate the land, special grass is being imported from South Africa and planted in the areas that have been so badly overgrazed. It is grass specially adapted to arid climates with infertile soils and grows relatively faster than the indigenous grass therefore ensuring that the grass does not completely disappear from the land. The grass has been successfully growing in Kalama and West Gate area able to feed livestock and shoats. The livestock and shoats also play a role in dispersing the seeds of this grass and hence increasing the presence of this grass.
Ungulates and livestock do not seem to co-exist too well, partly because the dogs that accompany the herds often hunt Kirks dikdiks and gerenuks. Elephants may be skittish around livestock or avoid them altogether. Also with bullets being fired without due purpose the much desired wildlife moves away to avoid the livestock and danger hence affecting tourism in the area. This is an issue that Save the Elephants is trying to create awareness about to the local communities.
Wildlife has brought tremendous benefits to Samburu and other parts of Kenya. So many foreign and local tourists travel here to see these amazing animals, infrastructure develops because of such human activities; schools, curio shops, social amenities and medical care which is very essential in case of emergencies as I learnt having been stung by a scorpion. Wildlife also brings income to the local people. Apart from wildlife being an opportunity for economic growth, they have a psychological effect that transcends beyond possession of ivory trinkets and animal fur coats. It is somewhat spiritual and heart-warming especially when they come to camp and visit. Maybe if people saw wildlife in this way things would be different. If anything everyone should be conspiring to save our precious wildlife.