Project Amboseli: In search of that elusive drop of life

A herd of goats and sheep huddle together under the scanty shade of a leafless accacia tree, desperately waiting for water. Photo by IFAW-E.MkalaAt 5:30am in Amboseli, visibility is poor and the sun has not risen. Hyena howls can be heard from a distant as they return to their dens, yet all this does not deter a Maasai mother from straddling her baby on her back, picks up an empty 20 litre plastic jerry can and sets off in search for water.

She knows just too well that without that water, there will be no drinking or eating in her house. For miles, she will walk, ignoring the chilly morning breeze, and the risk bumping into a bunch of hungry hyenas - all in search of that elusive drop of life, water.

For hours on end, she will walk to the water points.

Should there be none, she would either painfully wait for trickle in or walk further to another source.

By this time, the scorching sun is merciless yet she knows just too well that she neither has the luxury of time nor the option of giving up.

Electing either of those two options would be suicidal to herself and other members of her homestead.

And so, for close to six hours she toils and finally gets back home hungry and tired knowing she will have to follow that routine the following day and for every day that she is alive.

It may be only 20 litres of water but for her and her family, it could as well be the ocean as that is all they have.

That water is life is an undisputed universal fact, for where there is no water both animals and people, all perish.

Long GONE. No sign of water or livestock. The cattle trough at Olchakitai stands here dry and lonely with dry  overgrown grass. Photo by IFAW-E.mkalaTo date, there has been an unfulfilled promise to the local Maasai community of Olgulului-Ololorashi Group Ranch (OOGR) in Amboseli from whose land the world famous and UNESCO’s MAB reserve, Amboseli National Park, was curved out.

In exchange for clean piped water outside the park, they agreed to move out of the 392 square kilometres Amboseli National Reserve to allow its gazettement into a National Park (ANP) in 1974.

With an area of 133,000 Hectares that engulfs 90% of Amboseli Park and 11,485 registered members, OOGR forms the heartbeat of the Amboseli ecosystem and thus its survival and that of its community is of utmost importance.

Yet they have struggled for years with either inadequate or outright absence of clean drinking water for themselves and their livestock.  

This unfulfilled promise and the total conviction that for the survival of Amboseli National Park and OOGR community, the issue of water has to be addressed.

A few months ago, we sought to find out where the water could be.  

At Amboseli Serena Lodge, the source/intake, we learned that the water level had been dropping necessitating a change of the water eye and intake point.

Our verdict?

The water intake may not be enough.

That made us to explore an alternative source, the Nolturesh Water pipeline.

We found that the source is outside OOGR lands, the demand is very high, and its management very complex, leaving us with the first option.

A Ray of Hope. Maasai Morans uncork the tap at Inkiito cattle trough so that their sheep and goats can drink. Photo by IFAW-E.MkalaIt led us to Risa water tank – North West of the park, where dry water tanks, cattle troughs, dips and drinking panes, women and children wearing crestfallen faces sat quietly holding their empty containers praying for the water to flow out of the empty pipes.

Failure to that meant their trek exceeding ten kilometres would have been in vain.

Going back home without the resource was not an option.

So they sat there waiting patiently, refusing to lose hope including the toddlers who had to be strung along.

The story was the same at Northern end of the par at Inchakita, Olchakitai and the North eastern part of the park at Emurua Oloioborr, the ultimate end of the 90 kilometre Northern Pipeline.

It was only at Inkiito on the far Northern part of the park where we sighed with relief. Here we met Maasai morans keeping watch over their flock as the latter single-mindedly quenched their thirst before the quarter-full water tank ran dry too.

In conclusion, it is a fact that;

  • one, man and animal are suffering in OOGR due to lack of or inadequate supply of water;
  • two, it is not about to end;  
  • three, it is bound to get worse;
  • and finally, something needs to be done urgently.

Without fresh water supply outside the Park, the trek into the fresh water swamps inside ANP for man and livestock will continue, escalating the already rife human-elephant conflicts especially in the dry seasons.

As we expect the Maasai community to be understanding in the creation of space for elephants on their land by maintaining their age old traditions, let us also be compassionate with their quest for access to clean and safe drinking water by fulfilling the 38 year old promise.

With your help, we can have a win-win scenario.

So let us get out there and make a difference.

-- EM

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy