Effects of drought on Masaai communities living around Kimana Wetlands

The last drought which began in 2005 and went through to last year saw a dropout rate of both wildlife and livestock with most areas littered with the corpses of animals. Most of the animals died and the the weakest stumbling and falling, unable to get up again. And the consequence of a change in the global weather patterns that has seen three serious droughts within a decade, when previously a bad one occurred every nine to 12 years, has been a whittling away at the pastoralists' capacity to restock with animals, to replenish and survive – normally a period of about three years.

Mounting desperation

The result has been a mounting desperation. Families who were rich enough had to either take their animals hundreds of miles by lorry to areas such as Mombasa on the coast to pasture them, or have had fodder brought from Nairobi. The situation also led to massive exodus of the community members to other big towns and those lacking in resources were forced to cross the border to the neighboring Tanzania.

In Isinet village near Kimana wetlands “When we had livestock we had to move around," said an elder Masaai with sad logic. "Now our livestock is gone, we don't have to move. Before I had 50 goats. Now I have five. Those are the ones that I'll stay home with. I don't want to go back to that life. It is too hard. My children are getting an education here. I don't want them to follow their father and grandfathers as the situation gets worse” continued the man.

Following the rains

“In Empiron, the story was different. Traditionally, we moved from one area to another in search of pasture and water for our livestock. We would move with our cattle in response to drought, so every time there is climatic stress which manifests itself in failure of rains, we would migrate following the rains.

With the increasing frequency and severity of the drought, our land can no longer sustain us and we are forced to migrate. The wetlands that used to cushion during the hard times have been lost to farming and therefore we have no choice but get into the National Parks such as Tsavo and Chyullu National parks. Migration and the increase concentration of livestock population also led to more intensive use of limited resources and hence created some degradation in certain areas within the parks.”

Species loss: domino effect

Because ecologically species within an ecosystem are dependent on each other, the loss of some species such as the zebras and the wildebeest had a domino effect on other species such as the predators whose numbers had increased and that exerted pressure on the remaining herbivore population. In some instance, there was predator starvation and this resulted in increased human wildlife conflict through livestock depredation. Some communities in some of the community areas ended up poisoning predators such as lions and hyenas.