Amboseli and the Kenya drought of 2022

Maasai giraffe at a water hole where the body of a dead giraffe lays prone

The road was bumpy and the wind was cool blowing through the sides of the open 4 x 4 vehicle.

I felt a slight mist on my face and saw the evidence of the water droplets on my hiking pants.

And I began to cry.

Tears of gratitude.  Tears of hope.  

Hope that the mist was a symbol of the rains to come.  

Hope that the rains this time would be enough to start and sustain growth of the grass and plants.   Food desperately needed by man and animal.

Many parts of Kenya are in a severe drought.   The worst drought since 2008.   And news media is now saying the worst drought in 40 years.

It's hard to understand because Amboseli has water and you'll see pictures in this post (and probably in social media) of water.  

The swamp areas are fed underground by Mt. Kilimanjaro BUT there has been NO RAIN and NO RAIN = NO FOOD.    

The animals are starving to death.  In this cases drought = starvation.

According to a report released in early November by the Kenya's Ministry of Tourism, 

“The Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers, Community Scouts, and Research Teams counted the deaths of 205 elephants, 512 wildebeests, 381 common zebras, 51 buffalos, 49 Grevy’s zebras, and 12 giraffes in the past nine months”.

Hundreds of thousands of people are also impacted as is their livestock.

The drought is impacting the tourist regions of Samburu, Amboseli and Tsavo.  Of course, it is impacting other regions of Kenya that as a tourist, I am not familiar with.

I was a little nervous to come on safari in Amboseli due to the drought but I also know that tourism brings much needed funds to the locals, so I decided not to change this part of my trip.

I

WAS

NOT

PREPARED . 

I've seen some really hard things while on safari but I was not prepared for the carnage of the severe drought.

WARNING!

Many pictures in this article are very difficult to see...they were excruciatingly hard to take.

I do have some beautiful pictures taken during the same trip later in the article - so please, buckle up and proceed so you can be aware...

because with awareness brings change.

I became numb as we drove from the airstrip on our first game drive.

We started counting carcasses and within minutes we stopped because there were too many.

Every corner we went around there were carcasses.   Sometimes one or two, sometimes we could see 6-8 with one glance.

a picture showing 5 carcasses with animals trying to graze in the background

This image shows 5 animals that died from starvation while some other animals try to get some nutrients out of the remaining grass

They were in different states of decay.   Some had just died.  Too weak to continue, the bodies just laying there with eyes that could no longer see.

a dead zebra laying on the ground

Others had been scavenged completely and others had part of them gone and parts still in tact, eaten by scavengers.

a skinny wildebeest carcass partially eaten
The carcass of a gazelle which had not been touched by scavengers
Another carcass of an animal that starved to death
A carcass of a very skinny animal from starving

This is the time for scavengers.   But even with all the lions, hyenas, jackals, and vultures, they can't keep up with so much death.  There is rotting flesh everywhere.

And with weak animals all around, they preferred to hunt to get fresh meat.

a lioness with a death grip on a wildebeest neck

The wildebeest was too weak to defend itself or stand up and the lioness takes advantage.

We saw animals so weak they struggled to walk.  

We saw animals so thin they looked like a wind would certainly blow them over.

a very thin starving wildebeest

A very thin wildebeest photographed with a long lens thru the windshield as to not startle him

the back of a healthy wildebeest

A healthy wildebeest taken a few days later in the Maasai Mara - an area not effected by the drought.

I wasn't prepared.  

I could never be prepared to see this, smell it, and stand by helplessly watching the animals I love so much suffer.  

For me, it was like my soul had been torn into pieces.

The drought has had the worst effect on the wildebeest.  The live ones were so skinny and weak.   I'm sure the number of wildebeest bodies we saw was in the hundreds.   Next was zebra and then gazelles.   

On top of all those dead bodies, we also saw one  giraffe and 3 elephants including a baby.

Maasai giraffe at a water hole where the body of a dead giraffe lays prone

3 giraffe at a water hole. A dead giraffe lays on the side probably too weak to stand after drinking

Seeing the elephant carcasses was the hardest for me because not only are they my favorite animal but also because the government comes and cuts the tusks off them so the tusks can't be sold on the black market....this leaves a hole in the front of the face - a face that had once belonged to a beautiful and sentient creature.

the carcass of an elephant with his tusks cut off

We saw this elephant just a few hours before he went down and was too weak to stand up.

An eaten carcass of an elephant

(I'm in tears just writing and remembering it.)

The toll on the people is just as bad.   The Masai people live and die with their livestock.   Livestock is their food and their money and they (the livestock and the people) are starving.

They can't grow fresh produce for themselves and they can't feed their cows, sheep, and goats which means no milk for them or their children.   Their entire wealth gone in a matter of a few months.

We went to a Masai village and I watched a beautiful young lady carry a heavy bag followed eagerly by goats and small sheep.    She opened the bag and took out fresh greens that the animals eagerly ate.   I assumed she had purchased the greens but I found out that she walked almost every day to the marsh to cut the greens and carried the heavy bag back to feed the animals.  The marsh is almost gone too.   The plants overgrazed and the water getting low.

The young Masai woman walked through land that had lions, hippos, buffalo, hyena, elephants and snakes.

Risking her own life with every step so she could bring grass to her charges.

Buying grain and feed isn't an option in this remote area.   There is no money and no supply.

Some NGOs (non-profits) and to a small extent the Kenyan government have been helping where they can with food for the people and hay for the wildlife.   Big Life Foundation has set up 2 feeding stations - knowing they can't possibly save them all, they found the routes of the most vulnerable and feed 10 bales of hay at each location every day.

The day we left, the government came into the park to lay hay for the wildlife.

It's an impossible task.   There are too many animals to save them all.  The only thing that can save these people and animals is a good and proper sustained rainfall.

Enough rain over an extended period of time so the grasses and marshes can regrow and so the trees can regenerate.

I realize droughts are a common part of nature.  As are floods and fires and so many other things.   But I have to wonder, why are they coming so much more frequently and severely...or do I have to wonder?

Have you ever been to a city with an air quality warning?   The air pollution causing difficulty to breath?   How can we even question if our pollution is hurting our planet?

It makes me wonder how I could live a better life with less impact on the planet?   Can I do more/better?   I know I can.

Can you imagine if every person just did one little thing to help the planet (plant a tree, recycle, buy products with less waste, buy used instead of new, etc) the impact we could have on our planet in a good way?

Will these changes save the weak animals I just saw?  No.  They won't.  But maybe, if we all change just a little bit, the next drought or flood won't come so soon or be as severe.   And being a better steward of the Earth certainly won't hurt anyone or any animals or plants or trees or rivers or oceans.

Please comment below if you have ideas of a  small change that would have a good impact on the planet.

The pictures of the carcasses in this article were taken on the last day as we drove around our camp and then to the airstrip.   I had decided I needed to write this article and that I needed to show the carcasses so I took the pictures of the dead and of the weak. 

These carcasses pictures were all within a 10-15 minute drive from our camp.  I did not post them all.  I couldn't photograph them all.  The very essence of my soul was torn and I had to stop photographing them.


If you are thinking of visiting Kenya and any of the parks mentioned above, I say please go.  

Don't let this article dissuade you.   There are many beautiful things to see in Amboseli and all over Kenya.

There are healthy populations of elephant and beautiful sunrises and sunsets and lions and hyenas and cheetahs and so much more..

If you do come to Kenya, maybe you could bring a few extra dollars and buy some handmade goods from the locals.


A few of the beautiful and fun images I took in Amboseli that will hopefully lighten your heart.   

sunrise with a silhouette of a giraffe and wildebeest

Image taken by my guide Junior with my iPhone

photo of an elephant with big tusks - his name is Craig
Flamingo with a reflection
A baby hyena
A lioness at sunrise
A lion cub

If you would like to help with the current situation, Big Life Foundation is accepting donations for hay and water for the wildlife,  the people, and the livestock in and around the greater Amboseli ecosystem.   


Another great organization that is helping is Amboseli Trust for Elephants.  
From their Facebook page:

"Some (organizations) are already focusing on feeding wildlife & livestock which helps save some lives but there are many more issues that require action. We are therefore putting our resources into working with our partners on:⁠

1) Primary school nutrition as well as feeding elderly community members ⁠

2) Borehole restoration from elephant damage, and construction of elephant proofing, as well as wildlife troughs.⁠

3) Livestock nutrition and health support - one of the biggest challenges right now are heavy parasite loads in both livestock and wildlife. This initiative will support livelihoods, and protect wildlife health by efforts to manage parasite burden.⁠

⁠As many of you know our work is entirely reliant on donations. If you wish to make a donation please visit our website" https://www.elephanttrust.org/donation-online/


And one last little note.    Most of my posts are about happy and cute and fun things... so if you are interested in wildlife and are new here -- please subscribe below to my newsletter which is sent out periodically through the year.


Wild – but still trapped

polar bear sting on a small block of ice surrounded by garbage in the ocean

Shawshank Redemption - a very popular movie.   Perhaps you have seen it?

The majority of the movie was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH and I was a visitor there recently for a business retreat.

A strange place for a business meeting...but Kary Oberbrunner, a Best Selling Author many times over, launched his book "Day Job to Dream Job" there and he holds one retreat a year at the prison...more on that in a moment.    

The prison, on the outside, is beautiful.   It was built between 1883-1910 and was operational until 1990.     

The outside of the prison

From the outside, the prison does not look like a prison. It is a beautiful building.

The Inside

The inside is a different story.   

As I walked through the cell blocks and listened to the stories about the lives lead by the prisoners, I was filled with such a huge feeling of gratitude and empathy.

Gratitude for the life I was fortunate enough to live, the opportunities to grow up in a safe neighborhood, with loving parents, making it EASY to stay on the "right side of the law".

Empathy for those that didn't.   Although true, we all make our own choices, for some, the choices are much easier than for others.

The cells are 5' x 8' and were originally designed for 1 prisoner.   Due to overcrowding, they were used for 2 prisoners and then 3.  

The cell scenes in the movies were filmed on a set where cells were built - and they looked like a Ritz Carlton compared to the actual cells where prisoners were housed.   

5' x 8' cell
one of the cells

The prisoners got to shower 1 x per week and that shower lasted 30 seconds.

Some of the "worst" prisoners, were housed in cells with doors like this:

doors that you can's see thru

These doors were to limit the "view" for the prisoner and cause more isolation.   Food was given through the little door opening and that's also where they would be hand cuffed to be allowed to go to the showers or meetings.

The largest cell block had 6 levels of cells.   The cell blocks were extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter with snow sometimes piling up inside the jail and the water in the toilets freezing.

the cells
sensory deprivation cell


And then, we saw the isolation and sensory deprivation cells.   These cells were either dark 24 hours a day or light 24 hours a day.  

There was a "door" inside the door for food.

This one shows a cot, but we were told there were no beds / cots in isolation cells.

I can't describe the feelings I had when walking through the prison because I'm not even sure what they were besides the gratitude and empathy as stated above.

And I knew that I would NEVER do anything that would put me inside these walls as a "guest".

So, why hold a business seminar here?  What is the parallel with prisons and business and life?

We had a 1/2 hour exercise where we went into the prison cells to reflect on our own inner prisons - in life and business.  

I didn't want to go into the cell.   I didn't want to be isolated, I didn't want to face my demons.   But I did.

It was a powerful exercise and one I am still digesting...

but one question Kary asked is the reason why I am writing this article in a wildlife centered blog - "how does the experience parallel with what we do ?"

Lisa in prison

What does prison have to do with wildlife?

The obvious popped into my mind first:

Animals in captivity vs. animals in the wild

but that is better demonstrated and discussed with pictures of animals in captivity and not me in a jail cell - and that article (or most likely articles) will come sometime in the future.

As I was pondering this outside my cell with Danielle Bernock, a fellow Mastermind Member and truly an amazing person (go check her out on social- she helps people get over their trauma and is truly one of those people that just bring light into your life), she made a simple statement which lead to my AHA parallel:

Animals in the wild, that live as nature intended, are still imprisoned by humans!

Wild animals depend on humans to make good choices for the environment.    

polar bear sting on a small block of ice surrounded by garbage in the ocean

Humans can save wild places and wild animals by the choices we make.

  • Wild animals rely on us to preserve wild places so they have a place to live
  • They depend on us to stop human-wildlife conflict so they can live their lives as nature intended
  • They count on us to stop trophy hunting (where the biggest and healthiest of animals are taken to display on someone's wall)
  • They need clean oceans and have to trust that we will stop polluting the waters around the world
  • They rely on us to stop taking babies out of the wild to live their lives in captivity (this is happening currently with elephant calves being ripped away from their herd and sold around the world - INCLUDING sales to the USA!)
  • Humans hurt them by taking selfies with wildlife and putting them in jeopardy (have you seen the viral videos of people passing around dolphin babies to take pictures and the baby dies because of it??   Or videos when people try to get to close to a bear or a moose.   This causes so much stress on the animal and is dangerous to both them and the human.)
  • The wild animals count on us to stop testing on them for the cosmetic and medical industries (have you seen the videos of chimpanzees that were used for medical testing being released to sanctuaries that have never been outside or stepped on grass?)

I'm sure there are many more examples that I did not think of where we humans are imprisoning wildlife even when they are in the wild.

The animals DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE!

but

WE DO!!!!

We, the humans, have choices.   We can choose to

  • Not take selfies with animals - both captive and wild
  • Boycott industries that test on animals
  • Support non-profits that help animals
  •  
     
    Boycott buying any animal trinkets - rhino horn, ivory, lion / tiger bone salves or creams, giraffe hair bracelets, animal skin rugs, etc.
  •  
    Get involved with local charities to clean up and preserve wild habitats
  •  
    Stay informed about conservation efforts
  •  
    Vote and contact your representatives about wild places and wildlife bills
  • Recycle
  •  
    Plant flowers and gardens that are wildlife friendly
  • Vacation in wildlife rich destinations

There are many things we, the human species, can do to help wildlife and wild places around the world to thrive.  

It is up to us to preserve the wild places around the world for generations to come!

What impact can you make?


As always, I'd love your thoughts about this article and other idea of what the human species can do to help save the wild places around the world!



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