Water scarcity, COP27 & sand dams: Our thoughts and plans as we combat drought
You cannot be in the business of protecting wildlife in Tsavo without drought-mitigation being a huge part of the year-round plan. Key to conservation’s success, here in Kenya where we seldom have fences around protected-for-wildlife areas, is that the reserves and parks are habitable to the wildlife that reside within.
If our protected areas are not suitable to the support of wildlife, then the wildlife will leave, searching for sustenance elsewhere. We have seen this happenstance occurring all year as many different species of wildlife, but most problematically our elephant, have left the parks in search of water or food sources. This has often brought them into contact with human beings, resulting, occasionally, in human-elephant conflict.
It is therefore of huge importance that we maintain the habitability of the protected areas in Kenya. Much of what we do year-on-year is orchestrated with that in mind.
Medium-term drought mitigation (helping the parks’ neighbouring communities and its wildlife)
In the medium-term, we know that some of the work that we do here is essential to helping Tsavo’s wildlife through the driest months.
Over the last two years we have been enthusiastic in the creation of sand dams. You can read more about the mechanics of these constructions here. For the purpose of this article, however, it is enough to say that they are essential tools in helping wildlife survive the harshest of dry months.
Sand dams are a method for ensuring that the infrequent rains that visit the locality can be stored a little better than is naturally possible. Due to the dryness of Tsavo, rainwater tends not to permeate too deeply. It, instead, runs with the topsoil, into riverbeds and away from the area.
Sand dams trap the water first behind the dams and then, as it sinks into the topsoil it carries along with it, within deposits of sand. This water is then accessible to animals that can burrow for it. Elephant, as many of you will know, practice this often, in times of scarcity. We have observed how useful these mechanisms are often, giving elephant, and the animals that follow them, deposits of water that are secured against evaporation or unchecked flowing away.
Over the last couple of years, we have built 8 sand dams. A further 2 are presently in construction.
Working within the same recognition as motivated our building of the sand dams, we’ve also created 3 boreholes within the Kamungi and Shirango conservancy.
Occasionally, though less often than we see wildlife outside of the protected areas, we find herdspeople inside the park searching for water or pastureland. More often than not, those that we find within the parks or on conservancy lands are driven by a sense of desperation.
There are water sources to be found in the parks. The Galana river, for example, continues to run even now. If the need is considered great enough, there are members of the Tsavo community who will trek through the park, braving interactions with its wild inhabitants, in search of these water sources.
In order to try and minimize the need for this resort, we have financed the building of fresh water boreholes in easily accessible areas close to the community settlements
Long-term fighting the root causes of this drought
While COP27 is ongoing, it seems particularly poignant that we inform you on this element of our drought-mitigation strategy. As has been made much of by the media reports on COP27, much of what has been done to impact the unpredictability of weather in East Africa, amongst other regions, has been the product of behaviour and habits most prominently practised in other, wealthier nations.
There is of course much that can be done here in Kenya to undermine some of the factors most influential in changing our climate. We can certainly cut emissions here. We can practice less damaging methods of farming. We Kenyans could put more into greener building practices.
That said, Kenya is, by no comparative metric, considered one of the countries that has significantly contributed to the presently observable climactic changes. Wealthier countries must stand up, take ownership of the part they have played in bringing about life-altering change to other nations, and they must act to stop the potential worsening of conditions.
Despite that we know Kenya cannot accept a large portion of the blame for climate change, we do, here in Tsavo, endorse a greener mode of living. Part of our long-term strategy includes the protection of the trees that we have here in Tsavo. We do a great deal in our community outreach programmes to protect the flora where we can.