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Helping Communities and Animals in Kenya Survive Drought

I’m standing on the sandy edge of the Tana River in northeastern Kenya when the sun starts to slip behind the tall trees across the murky water, finally giving us some relief from the day’s relentless heat. The dry season has just come to an end, and the level of the river is relatively low, revealing the sharp cliffs of erosion. Each extreme rainy season carves a new path, and a new one is coming.

I smell the earthy whiffs of evening meals being prepared on open fires, and I hear the bleating of goats being herded back to safety for the night. Flocks of small shorebirds and doves fly across the water, backlit by the setting sun, a mesmerizingly beautiful sight that almost makes me forget why we’re here.

This part of Kenya, as in other parts of East Africa, has been experiencing the worst drought in 40 years. The past three years of prolonged drought has affected much of the Horn of Africa, and the National Government of Kenya declared the conditions a national disaster on Sept. 8, 2021. Drought conditions persist today, affecting lives of both people and animals.

Earlier that day, we drove through rural communities separated by parched, dusty lands. We came upon a woman standing precariously along the road and stopped to see if she needed help. When we spoke to her, she responded in Somali. Garissa shares part of its border with Somalia, and more than 70% of the county’s population is ethnically Somali; the county hosts hundreds of thousands of Somalian refugees. Dr. Abdullahi Ali, the founder and executive director of Hirola Conservation Program, is originally from Garissa and easily spoke Somali with the woman to understand her situation. We then noticed a sheep lying listlessly by her feet. She explained that the only water she could give the sheep was “very salty” and now the animal could not walk.

Groundwater salinity often intensifies during times of drought, making it unsuitable for most animals to drink. Prohibitively far from the nearest veterinarian, we helped the sheep to stand and drink small amounts of fresh water in hopes of helping her on the path to recovery. We gave the woman and her sheep a ride back to her village and provided additional fresh water. This is just one instance of the daily challenge people and animals in the region face, all of them searching for the universal basic building block of life: water.

We have been providing funds for supplemental feeding and water for farmed animals and wildlife, as well as addressing other challenges such as increased bushmeat hunting of endangered species, like the Somali giraffe. Since 2022, we’ve been working with HCP to identify more proactive mitigation efforts, recognizing that experts forecast prolonged drought to remain a way of life in the region.

However, now with the impending El Niño climate phenomenon, heavy rain forecasted from October through December this year could prove more of a curse than a blessing. Downpours after such severe drought can cause flash flooding and landslides, putting lives at risk. Just this past weekend, heavy rains in Kenya caused dozens of human deaths and killed more than 1,000 farmed animals (the loss of other animals’ lives isn’t reported so those numbers remain sadly untallied and unknown). Hundreds of acres of farmland were destroyed. We are in touch with HCP to learn about the local impacts and any anticipatory actions we can take such as preparing vaccinations and treatments for farmed animals to avoid further damage through disease outbreaks, which often follow floods.

Last month, we conducted the first workshop with HCP’s staff on multi-hazard disaster management. We discussed the cascading effects of hazards, such as increased wildlife-human conflict, rising cases of wildlife rescue, care and rehabilitation, and widespread impacts on animal welfare. We provided training on fundamental principles of animal welfare, wildlife rehabilitation and drought mitigation. And we shared ideas about how to prevent harm to people and animals in cases of flooding, landslides, human and animal displacement and disease outbreaks.

We also met with farmers who live along the river, putting them most at-risk for human-wildlife conflict and flooding, and we discussed how they can plan to reduce the risk to themselves, their families and their farmed animals. We worked with the HCP team to identify what field protocols and further training they need to best respond to animals in crisis, such as the incident of salt toxicosis in the sheep.

It’s clear from our work in Kenya that we must continue to grow and adapt in our work to understand the hazards that many communities face. Rarely does a single hazard occur in isolation; rather, multiple hazards are occurring simultaneously or interacting, causing and amplifying others. In all cases, we know that being proactive and anticipating impacts from weather-related and other disasters will prove more effective than disaster response alone. It is through this holistic approach to disaster management that we believe we can help communities and their animals not only survive but thrive.

Source: Blog Humane Society

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