After the Drought: Wildlife in Tsavo West National Park
These stories were submitted by our team on the ground in Africa, working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service, our partner in Tsavo West National Park.
During droughts, the seasonal dispersal of wildlife does not take place. This leaves the density of wildlife around permanent water sources high and leads to depletion of food reserves.
In times of extreme scarcity there are huge die-offs among wildlife populations. Natural selection then takes over and only the fittest survive. The overall number of animals decreases sharply, which results in much smaller, but much stronger and tougher, individuals. Tsavo West lost an estimated 40% of its grazing animals in this latest drought. But hippos took an even bigger hit.
The first substantial rains began falling at the beginning of 2010 – and since then the wildlife populations have steadily regained strength. Mangy and dull-furred gazelles now show soft, shiny fur and display spring-fever behaviours Even buffalos have transformed from weak bags of skin and bones to their usual appearance as black shiny brutes.
It will take more time for the Park’s animals and habitat to recover completely from the extreme dry spell but the loss of so many grazers will aid the recovery process.
All species are on the increase again, apart from hippos. Before the drought, there were about 30 resident hippos at Mzima Springs -- now there are only four.
Even taking into consideration that some of the survivors might have wandered off, as hippos do, to settle in other water pools created by the rains, this is an alarmingly low number.
We think the overall Tsavo region sustained a loss of 500 individual hippos out of a total population of about 1,500.
As sad as this loss is, it is part of a long-term natural cycle.
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Photos c. N. Grosse-Woodley