Kenyan officials say elephants are being killed by climate change and drought

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Illegal ivory poaching was once a significant threat to Kenya’s elephants. But now the giants of the animal kingdom face an even greater risk: climate change.

As Kenya battles its worst drought in four decades, the crisis is killing 20 times more elephants than poaching, officials say. They cite desiccated carcasses found in Tsavo National Park, where much of the wildlife has fled in recent years in search of water.

To survive, elephants need vast landscapes to feed on. Adults can consume 300 pounds of food and over 50 gallons of water per day. But the rivers, soil and grasslands are drying up, creating a barren and deadly environment.

Last year, at least 179 elephants died of thirst, while poaching claimed less than 10 lives, Kenyan Tourism and Wildlife Secretary Najib Balala told the BBC. “It’s a red alarm,” he said of the crisis.

Balala suggested that so much time and effort has gone into combating poaching that environmental issues have been neglected.

“We forgot to invest in biodiversity and ecosystem management,” he said. “We have only invested in illegal wildlife trade and poaching.”

In recent years, Kenyan authorities have cracked down on poaching, which has targeted giraffes for their meat, bones and hair and elephants for their ivory tusks.

Heavier penalties for poachers, traders and financiers were introduced as part of an updated Wildlife Management and Conservation Act which came into force in 2014. It has been hailed for deterred criminals as wildlife populations rebounded.

49 million people face starvation as Ukraine’s war and climate disasters escalate

In September, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought sweeping parts of the country a national disaster, with millions facing food instability and malnutrition.

Last week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it would provide nearly $255 million in aid to Kenya, including emergency food and support for farmers. They say they have lost up to 70% of their crops, as well as their livestock.

The agency said it would help communities in arid and semi-arid counties in Kenya, which are bearing the worst effects of the drought.

More than 4 million people in Kenya are facing severe food shortages. In recent months, cases of child malnutrition have increased by half, to 942,000, Reuters reported.

And it’s not just elephants that are dying from human-caused climate change.

Seven million head of cattle in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have died since last fall, according to a recent report by USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

Carcasses of giraffes, goats, camels and herds of cattle have also been found in villages after starving to death in northern Kenya. Such losses can be devastating for families, who face food insecurity, The Washington Post reported last year.

Rangers and hunters tried to help the animals by providing them with water and planting drought-resistant trees, but the drought was relentless. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which drove up wheat and corn prices, exacerbated the food crisis.

And while Kenya continues to face a punishing drought, the United States and Britain are also battling rising temperatures and scorched landscapes amid record heat.

In the United States, several states including California, which is suffering its third consecutive year of drought, have implemented water restrictions. In Britain, authorities have warned of a drought and more wildfires in August after the hottest temperatures on record in the country this month.

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