Early Warning in Amboseli: It’s going to be a ‘bad’ year

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.KWS rangers between eles and Maasai cattle, Jul-05

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.

2007-08 rain
2007-08 Amboseli rainfall

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.
Maasai woman at silanga
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.

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  1. Christine C.
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    I wish you the best of luck working with the Massai to make this human-wildlife partnership work. Clearly we cannot afford to lose anymore precious life in this corner of the world.

  2. TheTeach, Seattle
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Well, 14 speared elephants already this year, including the beloved Tulip, does not bode well for the near future should drought conditions intensify. How can our donations help to get water to the Maasai and their cattle? Is it possible to fund tanker trucks to deliver water to the Maasai grazing areas or is that even logistically possible there? It would seem that reducing the competition is the key to keeping the elephants safe and assuring the cattle aren’t devastated. Does the departure of KWS complicate this further? What is the impact of that? What timing to have government authority pulling out at a time when their presence is most needed to enforce conservation measures and assist the Maasai. Let us know how we can impact the situation for the better. Best Wishes

  3. Posted June 20, 2008 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Greetings! Thx for your comments. We had considered bowsers, but the logistics and cost are daunting compared to the short term (if high-profile) gains. Please check out the link to the story on our main website (elephanttrust.org/node/494) that has some more details on the strategy to augment the silangas. There is a downside to providing water (expensive precedent, interfering with natural ecosystem processes), but on balance we feel that buying some time in keeping pressure off the core swamps in the park is the way to go. Not to mention the PR value amongst the community. On KWS, see my note to your previous comment. Best regards, Harvey

  4. TheTeach, Seattle
    Posted August 17, 2008 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Two months on, further into the dry season, how are things there for the people, flora and fauna? Water supply, elephant health, Maasai & cattle, etc. How about an update from Amboseli Trust? By the way, I’ll be sending some support to the U.S. branch of Amboseli Trust in the near future. I’ve visited the ATFE website and was very impressed with and fascinated by all the info. Best Wishes.

  5. Posted October 27, 2008 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    It’s October now. Are the rains that are pounding Nairobi getting down to Amboseli at all? How is the silanga refurbishment going?
    Looking forward to an update.

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