A rare herd of desert elephants in Mali is being ravaged by one of the worst droughts in living memory, which has left water sources at lowest level in the past quarter of a century.
The 350 to 450 elephants of Gourma, the northernmost herds still alive in Africa, are being forced to trek extreme distances across the fringes of the Sahara to find scarce water. Juveniles are the most affected, as (unlike the bigger bulls) their trunks are not long enough to reach deep into wells - one of the only remaining water sources.
This year the water levels are extremely low in the Gourma region due to uneven rainfall in 2008. The most important of these lakes, Banzena, is the lowest it has been since 1983 when it dried completely.
On the 16th of May, Jake Wall, a scientist with Save the Elephants, returned from Banzena; he found it almost dry. Very few options now exist for finding water and we are witnessing erratic movements further and further afield as they desperately search for water and forage.
Over the last few years, The WILD Foundation and Save the Elephants (STE), in collaboration with the Malian Environment Ministry directorate for conservation - Direction Nationale de la Conservation de la Nature (DNCN), have monitored these last rare desert elephants using 9 collars fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. The collars transmit the hourly positions of the elephants three times daily via satellite link and give real-time information about the activities of the elephant herds.
Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants has been monitoring their range since the mid 1970s. He says: “In the Gourma region of Mali are the last elephants living in the Sahel and they are northernmost in Africa. Their range has shrunk drastically since the 1970’s due to climate change and overstocking of livestock which has degraded the habitat. These elephants have the longest migration route of any in Africa and move in a counterclockwise circle of about 700 km. At the height of the dry season there are only a handful of shallow lakes left to them until recharged by rains in July and August.” Our group of NGOs is launching an emergency appeal to save this unique herd.
Many elephants are now surviving with very limited and hard to access water supplies. At a dry lake bed 50 km to the east of Banzena, 6 bull elephants are surviving by getting on their knees and reaching for water with their trunks that is 3 meters beneath ground level and through a hole dug by the Touareg people. Younger elephants who are not as big or as skilled cannot possibly reach these hard to get at water points. The long distances, high temperatures and weakened condition will also take a heavy toll on the younger elephants.
Posted by Jason McManus from materials provided by Wild.org
Source Link: http://www.wild.org/blog/worst-drought-in-26-years-threatens-the-survival-of-the-last-desert-elephants/