As a climate change-induced drought wears on, wildlife, livestock and people face deadly consequences

By | December 22, 2022

Georgina Gustin writes:

A wildebeest has toppled into a ditch at the edge of a dusty track, its shoe-box-shaped head twisted upward, a single gaping chomp out of its flank.

Isack Marembe and Kisham Makui study the animal’s body and everything around it, doing a roadside postmortem.

“A hyena,” Marembe says.

But the culprit wasn’t a hyena. The hyena just happened to pass by and take a bite from the dead wildebeest’s side. The killer was—it is—an enduring drought driven by warming ocean waters thousands of miles away.

Animals in this wildlife sanctuary have chewed every blade of grass down to a beige nub. There is nothing left. Another wildebeest, and another and another, have collapsed on the ground in a row, one by one, as if their demise had been choreographed. Those that haven’t died stand there, their heavy, doleful heads about to pull them forward to their knees. These creatures, so famous for trying to survive, are giving up.

On the road leading through the park more casualties come into view, a tally rising into the dozens, then hundreds. They become recognizable by their disintegrating shapes: Wildebeests are gray-brown lumps with quote-shaped horns. Gazelles, small piles of suede. Zebras, bloated disco-era carpets.

Then elephants. Their big frames are draped with their heavy wrinkly hides, like painters’ tarps, their compassionate long-lashed eyes now just ragged black holes. (Knock on the skin of a pachyderm that’s been dead for a few months, and the knuckles meet cement.)

Thousands of animals have died here this year, not from thirst but from lack of pasture and green shrubs, which usually are abundant and lush during this season but haven’t been for two years running. A third year of drought is on the way. There are so many dead animals here that vets and park rangers have volunteered to drag them away, out of sight from tourists.

Opportunists and scavengers are getting fat. “The hyenas are the only ones enjoying it now,” Marembe says.

The animals aren’t the only casualties.

Makui is a rancher from a nearby county who has lost dozens of his own animals—sheep and goats, mostly—to the drought. Marembe is a wildlife guide who lives outside the park and has spent 20 years showing tourists its complexities and splendor. As the animals the two men depend on die, their livelihoods go with them.

Both are Masai, members of a herding tribe. “Without animals, we are nothing,” Makui says matter-of-factly. [Continue reading…]

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