From: Rodrique Ngowi, Associated Press
Published February 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Drought Kills Wildlife in East Africa's Sanctuaries, Hits Annual Migration

NAIROBI, Kenya — A searing drought has killed dozens of hippopotamuses and other wild animals in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania, and disrupted the annual migration of wildebeests and zebras between the two East African nations, conservation officials said.

Maasai warriors and others are driving tens of thousands of cattle inside Kenya's wildlife sanctuaries in search of pastures and water -- risking attacks by wild animals, Kenya Wildlife Service spokeswoman Connie Maina said Saturday.

The drought has so far killed at least 60 hippopotamuses in Kenya's wildlife sanctuaries. The animals -- the third-largest living land mammals, after elephants and white rhinos -- need large quantities of water or mud to cool bodies, which can weigh up to 3.5 tons.

"Whenever there is a drought, the first casualties are usually hippos who live in the water," Maina said.

Some 40 endangered Grevys zebra -- the largest, wildest and most untamable of the three zebra species remaining in Africa -- have died from anthrax near the Samburu Game Reserve, Maina said. Natural anthrax's bacillus spores can live for decades in dry soil and are ingested by animals rummaging for vegetation during droughts.

Some of Africa's most rare and treasured species live in natural habitats in Kenya and Tanzania, in at least 80 national parks and game reserves. Tanzania, East Africa's largest country, has set aside more than 25 percent of its land for the conservation of the rich wildlife.

In Kenya's Amboseli National Park, the drought has reduced large parts of the land to a dusty field.

Hundreds of buffaloes, water bucks, elephants and other large animals that need plenty of water are suffering in the drought, wildlife officials in Kenya and Tanzania said.

"We see the physical appearance of the big herbivores like elephants and buffaloes getting worse," said Samson Lenjir, deputy senior warden of Kenya's Maasai Mara Game Reserve. "The situation is expected to get worse because the rains are expected in mid March."

The drought has partly disrupted the migration of more than 1.5 million wildebeests, zebras and other herbivores from the Maasai Mara to Tanzania's fabled Serengeti National Park.

The annual migration has been described as the most dazzling wildlife spectacle on earth.

The animals thunder into the Serengeti plains to feed off the new grass and to calve "because the grass is more nutritious, with a lot of calcium, which is crucial for milk production," said Titus Mlengeya, chief veterinary officer with the Tanzania National Parks Authority.

The animals migrate into the Serengeti through the western, central and eastern corridors. The rains, however, ended prematurely along all routes except for the west, the only area where animals have calved well, wildlife officials said.

The rain failure triggered a critical shortage of pastures and water for the large herds of animals that had begun to calf.

"They have no milk and are forced to move frequently. In that confusion, many calves are lost and die because they cannot survive on anything other than milk," Mlengeya told the AP.

In the Tsavo west and east national parks, half of their more than 10,000 elephants have left the sanctuaries to search for water in the nearby hills.

Source: Associated Press

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