IFAW Chasing cattle to conserve Tsavo
Direct from Tsavo East National Park in Kenya, an International Fund for Animal Welfare grantee for the past four years, Assistant Warden, Paul Muya, explains a current challenge being faced – an influx of cattle being herded into the park due to lack of pasture for the animals outside of park borders.
To check unprecedented livestock influx in southern parts of Tsavo East National Park, park management has come up with an audacious idea; close the office, get to work! And in the wake of operation toa ngombe, 31 suspects were nabbed and 7500 heads of cattle driven out of the park.
Late last month, areas in Ndara, Ngutuni, Maungu, Bachuma and Morondo, saw running battles of wit and might, when park staff began driving livestock that threatened to destroy the largest ecosystem in the country, out of park limits.
“The park is experiencing its most trying moments ever,” quipped Yussuf Adan, Senior Warden of the park. He attributes livestock incursion to the persistent drought ravaging several parts of the country as well as the declaration of the Taita Taveta district as a disease-free zone.
Southern parts of the park are green following shorts rains in the recent parts, hence, livestock owners have been ferrying cattle into the park with track trailers from as far as Garissa in the Northeastern province and Kajiando in Rift Valley. It is believed that their animals are offloaded at Maungu, a hitherto sleepy town along Nairobi – Mombasa Highway that borders the park in the south. The town is dotted with makeshift bomas and herdsmen resplendent while familiar kikoi and Maasai regalia are a common site in the town.
Due to readily available pasture in the park and water that leaks along the Mzima springs water pipeline in the southern park border, thousands of heads of cattle are being brought into the park. Even more compounding is the fact that the road and railway line land reserve is not under the protection of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Herdsmen are having a field day.
Sustained effort to keep livestock at bay by KWS rangers has done little to deter the vice. Each day, up to 10 herdsmen are arrested and hundreds of livestock are driven out of the park. Illegal entry and introduction of domestic animals in protected areas is a crime stipulated in the Wildlife Act (cap 376). Upon conviction, suspects are fined up to Kshs.7,000 and/or imprisonment of three months.
The KWS security team is upbeat about the new strategy. According to the Senior Warden, livestock incursion will be a thing of the past. “The number of livestock introduced to the park has now reduced to a mere handful,” says Yussuf. “We are winning the battle.”
In the wake of this phenomenon, researchers are mourning the aftermath of the livestock invasion. Preliminary findings indicate that the natural habitat of the Tsavo ecosystem has been facing tremendous degradation due to overstocking of livestock. In some areas, the land has been left bare.
“The livestock incursion to the park is a dynamic process, which if allowed to operate freely with little human control, is critical to perpetuation of natural conditions in the wilderness. The livestock influx to the park has lead to the decrease or displacement of plant and animal species,” observes Dr Ndeere, a senior research scientist in Tsavo.
Notable habitat destruction in Tsavo is manifested by alteration of ecosystem stratification contributing to soil erosion, ecological succession, trampling on young animals, damage of burrows and shrubs used as shelter and removal of forage. The research indicates that tourism, a major revenue generation venture in the park, will suffer greatly if livestock influx is not curbed.
But, all is not lost. IFAW’s partnership with KWS to rehabilitate the Tsavo ecosystem is of great aid when facing challenges such as this one . Only recently, a tanker load of fuel was delivered to the park to help with this situation and similar operations.
“The IFAW partnership with KWS at Tsavo has allowed us to achieve major milestones in our conservation efforts,” says Yussuf. The project with IFAW is currently in its fourth year.
Tsavo National Park was originally established in 1948 and is home to Kenya’s most critical elephant population.