Wildlife pays the price of Kenya’s illegal grazing

Tristan MCConnell – It’s devastating. I’ve been following them every day of my life for the last year,” said Dedan Ngatia, a wild dog researcher in Kenya’s central Laikipia region. “They’re all dead.” Months of invasions by sometimes armed semi-nomadic herders, and tens of thousands of their livestock, have had a disastrous impact on the wildlife of a region heralded as a conservation success story. The large-scale walk-ons, driven by drought and politics, have begun to abate thanks to some rain and the completion of last month’s local elections. Now conservationists are beginning to count the cost. scarpe nike African wild dogs, elephants, buffalo, lions, giraffes, zebra and antelope have all been affected by shooting, starvation and disease, or by being forced out of their usual habitats. Canine distemper, a virus most likely caught from the pastoralists’ attendant mongrels, has wiped out scores of endangered wild dogs, including all seven packs studied by Ngatia, an ecologist at Laikipia’s Mpala Research Centre. Jamie Gaymer, conservation manager at Ol Jogi Ranch where packs of wild dogs roamed, watched as the last pack died, one by one, over the course of a week in July. Adidas Superstar Femme Blanche Elephants have also died at a tremendous rate, with 84 deliberately killed in the first half of 2017, compared with 75 during the whole of 2016, according to date compiled by the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme. Chronically endangered rhinos, such as the world’s three last remaining northern whites at Laikipia’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, have personal armed bodyguards, but most wildlife does not enjoy close protection. Mugie Conservancy was one of the first to be invaded in late January. Elephants, giraffes and zebra were shot. Laikipia is a “stronghold” of the endangered reticulated giraffe, of which there are just 8,700 remaining with 80 per cent living in northern Kenya. Arthur Muneza, East Africa coordinator for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation said giraffes were killed for their meat or their tails, but the numbers are not yet known. Among the wildlife victims, lions appear to have fared better than most, said Alayne Cotterill, a biologist and founder of conservation and research organisation Lion Landscapes. But while the 250 or so lions in Laikipia do not appear to have been deliberately killed in large numbers, they have been forced out of their areas by the encroaching herders.