East African countries, such as Kenya, have been subject to a particularly extreme drought in recent weeks. Droughts like this one have become more common recently. In parts of Kenya, the annual rains have failed to come for the last four years. This makes it the worst drought in several decades. This is especially worrying for two reasons. Firstly, the drought is having a major effect on wildlife today. Secondly, there are worries about climate change meaning such droughts become more common.
What are the impacts today?
Firstly, droughts negatively affect wildlife populations. The drought this year has killed at least 70 elephants and many giraffes in Kenya. This is generally due to dehydration. These animals are well adapted to heat and lack of water. Their struggle for survival shows the seriousness of the drought.
Secondly, droughts also have a similar effect on livestock populations. These animals also need more water than is currently available. This has a significant human cost due to the reliance on livestock for food.
Unfortunately, this crisis is receiving very little international attention. The conflict in Ukraine has stretched aid budgets and occupied the attention of world leaders. This means that there is a lack of aid and support for those affected. The result of this is that the impacts of the drought are worse.
What are the long-term concerns?
It is widely accepted that this extreme drought is partially due to global warming. It is part of a general pattern of extreme weather events that are made more likely by rising temperatures. This suggests that as global warming worsens these droughts will become more common and more extreme.
This will potentially force wildlife in much of Africa to relocate as their habitats become unsuitable. Animals will be forced to move to less familiar environments. This may make it more difficult for animals to survive and will contribute to more decreases in populations. Many animals are also dependent on other animals and plants. Droughts may separate these dependent species. It may also force wildlife into more densely populated areas which can cause challenges for people.
It is worth noting that the drought has been worsened by conflict in East African countries like Ethiopia. This prevents water from being used as efficiently as possible and worsens the impacts of drought. If these conflicts can be resolved, then the impacts of future droughts may be less serious.
The drought that much of East Africa is currently experiencing is cause for concern, including for wildlife. Firstly, it is having major impacts today. Local wildlife populations are already declining and this will continue over the summer. Secondly, it creates concerns about future droughts that may make much of East Africa uninhabitable – for people and animals. Richer countries may need to step in, both to combat the effects now and to prevent global warming more generally.