Human-wildlife conflict is increasing everywhere: human populations burgeon; land use changes erode natural ecosystems. Conflict escalates when sporadic natural events dramatically reduce the availability of food and water for people and animals alike. Long term monitoring and ecosystem surveillance by the Amboseli Elephant Research Project provides early warning of impending natural deficits and alert us to the need for short-term responses to defuse clashes. 2007-08 is likely to be a bad year in Amboseli.
What’s a ‘bad’ year?
A year with inadequate rainfall to get people, wildlife and livestock through the long dry season (May-October).
Amboseli only has on average some 330 mm (13 inches) of rain per year. And it can only support the magnificent array of wildlife and Maasai stock because of the additional input of water and food from the swamps that are fed by the water percolating from the Kilimanjaro forests.
If rainfall is poor, cattle and wildlife converge on dwindling water and forage resources, and conflict ensues: cattle and goats get killed; elephants and lions get speared.
What’s happening this year?
Too little, too late. Apart from the good, but short-lived, rainfall in March, it is close to a disaster.
From the graph, we can see that rainfall every month since the middle of last year (except December and March) has been well below average. In fact this rainfall year is similar to three other years (’83-84, ’96-97 and ’99-00) in which rainfall was poor, and there were consequently increased incidents of elephants being speared or livestock getting injured when they bumped into elephants at waterholes.
It’s possible to predict that 2007-08, with a low rainfall total and virtually no effective rain after March, will be a year with a lower than average forage reserves by the end of the dry season. And obviously, water will be at premium as well. The shortages will make life difficult for both wildlife and livestock, and are very likely to lead to high levels of competition and conflict over dwindling resources throughout August, September and October.
What can be done?
Well, since we cannot make it rain, we have to find ways to show the Maasai community that we are concerned about the plight of their livestock as well as the elephants. We believe we should try to pre-empt conflict and build goodwill by helping the Maasai in key areas with access to water away from the central swamps in the Park.
After talking to community leaders, we think the best ‘pre-emptive strike’ would be to help refurbish up to ten critical ‘silangas‘, which are earthen stream dams in the ecosystem outside of the national park.
Massai woman at silanga
For details on the implications of such support, please visit the main ATE website’s forum topic Early Warning in Amboseli.
What would be the impact of our help?
Improving the livelihoods of the local community, delaying or at least reducing the magnitude of the seasonal ‘invasion’ of cattle into the park, and, last but certainly not least, generating goodwill and enlisting elephant allies in what will certainly be a long dry season.
And, as a bonus, the goodwill generated by short-term action will certainly extend well beyond this particular ‘bad’ year, and strengthen the partnership between ATE and the local communities in working to achieve the vision of a world with room for both people and elephants.