I read a very interesting report in the Daily Nation today. The Kenya wildlife service (KWS) plans to trans-locate about 7,000 herbivores, mostly zebras and wildebeest, from some private ranches and game reserves in Kenya to the Amboseli national park. Apparently, following last year’s drought in Amboseli, the herbivore/carnivore balance in the park was severely disrupted. The predators are now attacking the livestock of the neighboring Maasai people.
Looking at it from a different perspective, the KWS action raises a number of questions. Is it fair to the game reserves from which the zebras and wildebeest will be taken? What will happen to the predator/prey balance in these ranches? I know, KWS may rightly argue that in these reserves, that “balance” was largely skewed in favour of the herbivores. After all, species trans-location is an acceptable and proven animal conservation strategy. There have been several animal translocations in Kenya in the past, though not on such a large scale. One past translocation that comes close in scale was the fairly successful translocation of 228 elephants from Shimba hills national park to Tsavo East.
Perhaps my second question is more important: Could we have done anything to prevent the current situation in Amboseli? During the drought, I heard it suggested that KWS could provide water to the wildlife, by artificially replenishing the water levels in the several watering holes. This would help lower the death rates among the herbivores. While this would certainly make a small difference, lack of pasture was the most devastating effect of the drought in Amboseli. And since the drought affected the surrounding region, Maasai herdsmen had no choice but to graze their animals in the park, thus increasing competition for pasture. There’s perhaps little we can do to regulate weather, but the elephant trust website does offer some few solutions (visit their website).
Amboseli national park is one of the main destinations for wildlife safaris in Kenya, alongside Masai Mara game reserve, Aberdares national park, Lake Nakuru national park, and Tsavo national park. I therefore hope that this effort by KWS bears positive results, and that the national park does not experience such a drought ever again.