The farmer who quenches thirst of wildlife in parched Tsavo West national park

Friday March 24 2017

A buffalo herd approaches a watering hole after

A buffalo herd approaches a watering hole after a tanker delivers water at Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park. PHOTO|AFP 

By ALLAN OLINGO

The animals in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park now know Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua. Every time he drives his water tanker in, they rush to meet him. To them, he is a saviour, as drought has left much of the park bare and its watering holes dry.

Mr Mwalua, a farmer, has in the past six months been delivering 4,000 litres of water a day to wild animals in the park as his way of giving back to the ecosystem.

“I started giving animals water because I thought if I didn’t they would die,” said Mr Mwalua.

As the drought continues, Mr Mwalua has increased his daily deliveries, thanks to donations from well-wishers, most of whom are foreigners impressed by his work.

An online campaign to finance his initiative started by an American had raised $263,000 by March 13. He said he will buy a new water bowser, sink boreholes and construct water pans in the Tsavo West National Park.

With the help he has received, the volunteer says he will be making at least four trips weekly, delivering 12,000 litres of water on each trip at a cost of $250.

He said he came up with the initiative after witnessing the death of many animals in the park in 2009 due to drought. The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimated that 40 per cent of the wildlife there died at the time.

“I didn’t want this to happen again and that’s why we need to save the ones we have left, by providing water to them,” Mr Mwalua said.

Initially, he would pour the water into the natural watering points, but he realised most of it was being lost to the parched ground. That is when he collaborated with the Kenya Wildlife Service and other conservationists to make concrete pans.

The animals are now so used to him that they drink even as he empties the tanker.

The KWS has been helping him to cement watering holes in the park as they seek sustainable water supply solutions.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, known for rearing orphan elephants, has also joined the initiative, drilling 13 boreholes in the park.  The drought has not only affected Tsavo. In Lamu, KWS has started rescue operations for hippos and buffaloes and smaller wildlife that depend on lakes, dams and rivers that have now dried up.

KWS said more than 100 hippos and buffalo are stuck at various watering points, including Lake Kenyatta, the Mkunumbi dam and Lake Chomo. In Lake Kenyatta, at least 60 hippos are stuck in muddy puddles, with more than 20 having died this year. Another 50 are said to be at the Mkunumbi dam. The situation is the same at Lake Chomo, where at least 23 hippos are stuck in the mud.

World Wide Fund for Nature Lamu programme manager John Bett is now calling on the KWS to fence off Lake Kenyatta and control the water use and human encroachment.

The KWS senior warden for Lamu County Jacob Orale said they have started water trucking to save the animals stuck in the mud. As a result of the drought, human-wildlife conflict has been on the rise, as animals have moved closer to human settlements in search of food and water.

“We hope this will reduce trips made by wildlife to human habitats. We are also trying to avoid animal deaths due to drinking saline ocean water,” said Mr Orale.
KWS spokesman Paul Gathitu said that they were planning to translocate wildlife affected by the drought to other parks.

  • “We have started emergency services especially for the hippos in Lamu. We have also mapped Ijara, Samburu, Chyulu and Tsavo, where we have lost animals to the drought. We have bowsers supplying water in the affected national parks, but we will move some of them to reduce the pressure on water and pasture,” Mr Gathitu said.