A deep-rooted mistrust of humans means that the elephants in Ishaqbini Community Conservancy, northern Kenya, would rather survive off plant moisture for months, than drink from a man-made water hole. As the dry season tightens its grip, community rangers are going the extra mile to try and quench the thirst of their elephants.
They say an elephant never forgets, and the elephants in Ishaqbini, Kenya, are no exception. Ivory poaching was once so bad in this area that these animals were rarely seen – those who dodged the poachers either left the area completely, or remained hidden in thick bush – well away from the humans who had shot and killed their friends and family. But when the Somali community in Ishaqbini established a community conservation area back in 2007 – things started to change for the wildlife here.
The establishment of Ishaqbini Conservancy, supported by the Northern Rangelands Trust, saw big cats, elephants, and other herbivores such as the Beisa oryx gradually return to areas previously devoid of wildlife. Local communities collaborated on better land management, and the conservancy rangers conducted anti-poaching patrols. They even fenced off an area specifically for the protection of the most endangered antelope on the planet - the hirola. In mid 2014, a heavily pregnant matriarch broke into the fenced hirola sanctuary to give birth, with seven other elephants in tow. She knew her family would be safe inside the enclosure. But such is their deep-seated mistrust of the human race that they refuse to drink from the made-made water points - knowing that they were frequently visited by humans for repair and refill. They sourced their water from natural ponds filled with rainwater, and from the moisture of succulent plants and creepers. But as the dry season continued, the ponds dried up and succulent forage disappeared - and the elephants fast ran out of options. Despite their increasing thirst, they still refused to drink from the cement water points.
Concerned for this small herd they have come to know and respect, the Ishaqbini wildlife rangers, supported by Conservancy manager Mahat Abubakar, decided to take action. Monitoring the elephants movements, they built up a map of paths that the herd used regularly. Using this map, they chose a spot in very thick bush in which to build the most natural-looking water hole they could manage. They sourced water outside the Sanctuary and filled a tank which they towed behind a tractor to the waterhole they had dug. On the fifth day of its completion, Mahat excitedly reported that the herd came close enough to dip their toes in the water, but stuck to their principles and refused to take a sip. "The magical elephants in Ishaqbini have not yet learned that we are out there to protect them" said Mahat.
Over a week later, Mahat excitedly circulated an update – "At last the magic elephants started drinking from the water hole! They have been drinking for two consecutive nights. We now plan to add the number of water holes for the elephants!"
The Northern Rangelands Trust aims to help the communities of northern Kenya establish resilient community conservancies that transform lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources.