Wildlife officials have warned that animals at Meru National Park are facing grave danger following the drying up of rivers in the region.
According to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) park warden Muraya Githinji, only four out of the 14 permanent rivers that flowed through the park are still flowing.
Measuring 870 square kilometres, the park is home to the big five- lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos. It is also home to more than 400 bird species.
The rapidly drying up park has seen rising cases of human-wildlife conflict in the area as wild animals wander beyond the park’s borders in search of water.
Recently, elephants and hyenas from the park have invaded local farms, sparking protests from farmers.
Wildlife officials have blamed climate change and agricultural activities upstream for the drying up of vital rivers that have been feeding the park for decades, warning that the situation will get worse in the next few years if drastic measures are not taken to save the ecosystem.
They blamed the dire situation facing the park on farmers who have been diverting river waters to their farms for irrigation amid the raging drought.
The situation is now threatening tourism in the region, with tourist lodge operators appealing to KWS to intervene and start watering the park.
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“No water is coming into the park. Locals have tapped all of it. Because we do not want a conflict with them we have had to dig a borehole. We are laying pipes to supply water to the lodge, for cooking, cleaning and other uses,” said Benson Njiru, a maintenance officer at River Rhino Camp that stands next to a rhino sanctuary along the River Kindani.
The river is among the ones that have dried up. Three kilometres from the camp, River Runjiweru is also drying up.
Park officials are now reaching out to the community to strike a balance on the use of river waters for the sake of wildlife.
“We understand the community needs to tap into the water because there has been no rain for long. We are reaching out to the locals through chiefs and assistant county commissioners for them to understand the enormity of the issue,” said Mr Githinji.
Water Executive Misheck Mutuma said the department was working with farmers living along rivers to introduce water-efficient methods of farming and plant more trees.
“We are asking farmers to abandon furrow irrigation. We are supplying them with drip irrigation equipment,” he said.
Mutuma blamed wanton felling of trees for water scarcity.
He said dams planned on Thingithu, Ura and Thangatha rivers would help lessen the crisis.