Sodom apple invades Tsavo's pristine landscape

At Mgeno Conservancy in the Tsavo ecosystem, a herder tends to his livestock. [Standard]

In the heart of Tsavo’s sprawling ecosystem, Mgeno Conservancy stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife.

However, this tranquil haven faces a formidable threat in the form of an invasive species - Solanum incanum, commonly known as the Sodom Apple.

As conservancy rangers patrol the land, they have discovered that nearly five acres of this pristine landscape have been ravaged by the relentless plant in the last two months alone, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

Collins Manari, a range land officer in Mgeno Conservancy, opens up about their struggle with the Sodom Apple. With a hint of frustration, he says, “The invasion of this plant has put tremendous strain on our conservation efforts. We take immense pride in the diversity of life that thrives within these lands, but the Sodom Apple threatens to upset the delicate balance we’ve worked so hard to maintain.”

Mid the relentless invasion of the Sodom Apple, the Conservancy’s once-prolific grazing lands for over 2000 cattle heads have suffered a severe blow.

The Standard established that the fast-growing, invasive species has rapidly taken over large patches of the conservancy, with the potential of leaving little room for native vegetation to flourish.

 As a result, the available grazing pastures have drastically reduced, posing a significant threat to the survival of numerous wildlife species and the livelihoods of those who depend on the land.

The situation becomes dire during the dry season when nutritious forage becomes scarce. The rangers are forced to travel long distances in search of viable grazing lands, affecting the health and well-being of animals.

Manari said: “The plant has wreaked havoc on our grazing lands. As it outcompetes native vegetation and dominates the landscape, it leaves the herbivores with a limited food supply.

To combat this challenge including that of climate change they implemented destocking initiatives, reducing the cattle population by about 100 cows per month to ensure adequate fodder as scarcity looms.

With the grazing lands at risk of further degradation, the conservancy has made pasture development a top priority. They have taken proactive measures to secure water sources within their vast 53,000-acre territory, essential for sustaining the native vegetation that supports the wildlife population.

The Sodom Apple, native to Middle East somehow found its way to Tsavo, and in this vast ecosystem, it has found the ideal conditions to thrive. Its success in Mgeno Conservancy is just one example of a larger, more concerning issue plaguing Tsavo’s ecosystem.

Across Tsavo, the burden of the Sodom Apple invasion is evident, as numerous conservancies and wildlife areas struggle to contain its relentless spread.

African Wildlife Foundation’s senior ecologist in Tsavo, Kenneth Kimitei, stated that the Sodom Apple poses a significant threat to the biodiversity of Tsavo.

“As an invasive species, it aggressively competes with native plants for resources and space, often outcompeting and displacing them. This disrupts the natural balance and reduces food availability for herbivores and other wildlife, directly affecting their survival,” he explained.

Kimitei notes that the consequences extend beyond the immediate impact on flora. With reduced food resources, herbivores like elephants, zebras, and antelopes may venture into new territories, leading to potential conflicts with local communities.

Additionally, carnivores that rely on herbivores for sustenance face similar challenges, leading to potential population declines and disruptions in the predator-prey dynamics of the ecosystem.

As the Sodom Apple continues its relentless march, it also threatens the livelihoods of communities that depend on the land for agriculture and livestock farming.

Kimitei emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “We cannot underestimate the economic toll this invasion takes on local communities. From farmers to pastoralists, their survival is intricately tied to the well-being of this ecosystem.

 “If the Sodom Apple persists unchecked, we risk the destruction of valuable grazing lands and a loss of resources vital for their sustenance.”

With the grazing lands at risk of further degradation, Mgeno Conservancy is implementing grazing blocks and strategic rotation of their cattle. By allowing pastures to regenerate and minimizing overgrazing throughout the year, they aim to restore the health and productivity of the grazing lands.

This proactive approach becomes even more crucial as the conservancy hosts more than 350 elephants yearly whose survival is deeply intertwined with the availability of nutritious grazing pastures.