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The climate crisis is killing 20 times more elephants in Kenya than poachers

Friday July 29, 2022
By Ethan Freedman

As drought strikes eastern Africa, the elephant is taking a hit.

In Kenya, drought has become an even bigger threat to the giant animals than poaching -- a longtime major danger to the species.

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for wildlife and tourism Najib Balala told the BBC this week that climate change kills 20 times as many elephants as poaching.

“It is a red alarm,” Mr Balala added.

The dry conditions have been so devastating that the outlet reports that nearly 180 elephants have died in the country this past year from drought. In comparison, less than 10 have been poached.

Parts of Kenya are currently experiencing extreme drought, according to the US government’s international drought monitor.

The drought, which is also hitting parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, has affected 15 million people, the UN has said. Three million livestock have died as many areas face the threat of malnutrition.

Elephants can go through dozens of gallons of water per day — and more when it gets warm out, a 2020 study found. The authors of that study estimated that elephants would need to drink every two or three days to avoid “critical water loss” in hotter weather.

Drought conditions in parts of Kenya have been persistent since at least last year. Separate footage fromthe BBC taken in December 2021 showed dead giraffes and dead cattle, while wildlife like warthogs and doves clustered around livestock watering holes.

The African savanna elephant, which lives through sub-Saharan Africa, is listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, a global analysis of threatened species.

Threats to the species, whose population is declining, include poaching, habitat loss and consequences from the climate crisis such as drought, IUCN says.

Poaching, much of which is aimed at gathering the ivory from elephant tusks, has continued at “unsustainable levels” in parts of the continent, the group adds. This is despite a sweeping international ban on most ivory trade since 1989.

This new report highlights the growing risk to wildlife from the climate crisis. In addition to drought, the warming planet is devastating some Arctic wildlife like polar bears who rely on ice in the northern reaches of the planet, as well as animals like sea turtles, whose nesting beach habitats are under threat from sea level rise and warming.

As the climate crisis accelerates, droughts will generally get both drier and more common in many parts of the world, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading global climate science authority.

One 2020 study found in a future with a moderate amount of future greenhouse gas emissions, drought could become more intense and more frequent in parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan by the end of the century.

But these results weren’t uniform across eastern Africa — other parts of the region, including Uganda and other parts of Kenya and Ethiopia, could see no increase, or even a decrease, in drought frequency.


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