Nzioki Wa Makau sits as a judge at the Industrial Court of Kenya and is Chairman of the Tsavo Trust. He has enjoyed a distinguished career in the Kenyan anti-corruption movement, having previously held positions at the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
It is at the crack of dawn. I woke up about 25 minutes ago, took a very brief shower and dressed in a light t-shirt and some jungle trousers and walked to the sitting room of the house of my host, Richard. He is the CEO and chief pilot for Tsavo Trust, an organization we set up some time ago.
This morning, we will be flying over the Tsavo National Park in Kenya and doing our air patrol to check on the elephants. We plan to fly over the Yatta Plateau and check the progress of the standard gauge railway that has altered the landscape in Tsavo.
Before we depart, we have a cup of tea and head to the aircraft parked at the airfield not too far from the Tsavo Trust HQ. Today we will fly the supercub, registration 5Y-TTZ. The old bird 5Y-ACE is in for repairs and may be decommissioned after a long service. Richard checks the aircraft and, after confirming everything is okay, asks me to board. I sit behind him and he guns the engines before we head off the airstrip and the bright morning son floods the cockpit.
We communicate over the head piece and, in a few minutes, we are airborne. We head east and within less than 10 minutes we see some elephants. They are always majestic; resplendent in their red warbled skin. The soils in Tsavo are volcanic red and the elephants generously coat themselves with mud or dust to keep away the heat and ticks and other bothersome pests.
Tsavo is home to the largest population of elephants in Kenya, standing at slightly over 12,000 individuals. The past few months have been terrible. Many elephants have died due to prolonged drought and the lack of rain in preceding months has left hundreds more in peril. I count over 10 elephant carcasses in an area covering 10 km. I even spot a recently deceased elephant with tusks intact (the tusks of the others have been collected by Kenya Wildlife Service Officers). We fly over the area, get a fix on the GPS and log the dead elephant.
It is a sad morning. It had rained the night before and we can see pools of water in the area and small herds of elephants. Nevertheless, we are pleased there is hope for the herds that survived one of the worst droughts in Tsavo. I notice many of the elephants are taking their time at the pools of water, with many drinking and others plastering themselves with the red mud that gives them a distinct red hue. An adult elephant needs about 50 gallons of water a day and the water is vital for digestion and the wellbeing of the elephant. It also helps with the formation of milk for suckling calves.
By the end of the 2-hour outing we have spotted many zebra, buffalo, giraffes and a variety of antelopes. We don’t see any of the predators, including a leopard we call Dottie that we released into the bush a few months back. We have some camera trap photos that shows Dottie has settled well in her new home and we are seeing signs she even now has a mate. Leopards become mature at around 2 years old. Their numbers, like those of other cats in the savannah, have dwindled due to habitat loss. I have seen fewer cats in the past few years than before. Leopards are more elusive compared to cheetahs and lions, and so have a special place on any game drive.
We head back to base after flying over the railway and seeing progress in the regrowth of the areas that were excavated to produce material for the railway. Sadly, the environmental damage will take a while to reverse and all we can do is hope that the harsh weather conditions we now see due to global warming will not wreak more havoc on the paradise I love. Tsavo is magical, providing one of the largest spaces for elephants and other iconic species, such as rhino, buffalo and the descendants of the notorious man-eating lions, crocodiles, hippos, and the many other species that call Tsavo home.
Visit www.tsavotrust.org for the latest updates on the Tsavo National Park.