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Elephant Fatality Numbers From Drought – Is Clarity Required?

A recent headline in the BBC news, “Climate change killing elephants, says Kenya”, would certainly have raised eyebrows internationally regarding the seriousness of the drought in Kenya.  

In a short interview video clip, the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala, stated: “Total, across the country, elephants died as per the end of June (2022) – 179. So far, poached animals (presuming elephants) across the country, we are less than 10.”

One would presume from this statement that in the calendar year 2022 to date, that 179 elephants have died as a result of the drought and less than 10 have been poached.

While the statement seems fairly straight forward, when it is taken in comparison with previous drought related statements from the Tourism and Wildlife Ministry, some clarification and consistency may be required.

A March 4th, 2022, headline read: “62 elephants starve to death in six months”.  The report in the Business Daily Africa states that CS Najib Balala addressed Parliament’s National Assembly’s Committee on Finance saying: “Through August to December (2021), 62 elephants have died due to drought. We are rushing to build water pans in our parks including Tsavo, that is most affected.”

In a story headlined: “Climate change threat to wildlife conservation efforts”, on May 7th, 2022, it was disclosed “that a record 78 elephants succumbed to the ravaging drought that swept through Tsavo Conservation Area in 2021″.  This was stated in a speech by CS Balala at a passing out ceremony of community rangers at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Law Enforcement Academy in Manyani, Voi. He further stated that: “We are losing more elephants to climate change related issues than to poaching.”

Ten days later in a story in The Nation: “Tsavo drought leaves 78 elephants dead”, CS Balala is stated as saying that Kenya lost 78 elephants to drought in the months between July 2021 and April 2022 in the Tsavo ecosystem.  

On July 19th, CS Balala told The Standard: “You know there is drought in the Tsavo and more than 70 elephants have died as a result of drought and lack of water and we are going to dig water pans and small dams to help conserve our remaining herds.”

On July 20th, theTourism and Wildlife CS told KTN news, while referencing the effects of climate change, that: “in the last 8 months, because of drought in Kenya, we lost almost 179 elephants within 8 months and in terms of poaching, less than 10.”

The following day, a Nation story headlined “Climate change killing more elephants than poachers, says Tourism CS Balala”, quoted that “we had nine elephants poached in the last eight months and 179 elephants dying because of drought.”  He observed that poaching in Kenya has been reduced to a single digit in the last eight months.

In re-capping, in March, it was reported that 62 elephants died through starvation from August to end of December 2021; in May it was reported that 78 elephants died in just the Tsavo conservation area from drought through 2021; this was followed by a report that Kenya lost 78 elephants in the Tsavo between July 2021 and April 2022. In mid-July, it was now reported that 9 elephants had been poached in the last eight months and 179 elephants died because of drought (2022).

Some may see these observations as pedantic.  The inconsistencies could be through media reporting errors or just politics, a specific message crafted for a certain occasion.  But cannot inconsistency in statistics reporting also indicate a lack of integrity in same? 

There is no doubt that the drought in Kenya, from a wildlife perspective, has had a serious impact on elephants, and wildlife in general.  But surely for statistics to have an impact and meaning, they have to be consistent over the same time frame and geographic region.  

NOTE: As an aside, should we put stock in these figures coming from the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and not KWS?  And in the same vein, why are the Kenya 2021 rhino poaching numbers (six rhinos were poached in 2021) coming from a World Wildlife Fund press release entitled “Kenya’s black rhinos continue to rebound”and not KWS or the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife?

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