Kenya's elephants suffer from drought

Elephants in Kenyan national parks and reserves are leaving their drought-stricken sanctuaries to search for water and food near human settlements, where they have attacked people trying to protect their crops. U.N. agencies have warned of hunger across the region because of drought, and say the situation in eastern Kenya is particularly serious. People have reportedly died of hunger in Kenya.

Connie Maina, spokeswoman of the Kenya Wildlife Services, said Thursday that elephants killed two people last week after leaving the Tsavo West National Park. Problems have also been reported in Lamu, Laikipia and Narok districts, she said. Members of the Kenya Wildlife Service' Problem Animal Management Unit have been deployed to various areas to try to address the problem, she said.

"We are trying to do ground and air patrol to ensure that the problem animals do not cause any havoc and to try to drive the elephants back to the park," Maina said. "This involves the use of a lot of vehicles and a helicopter that flies low and pushes them in the direction where we want them to go. It is a very expensive operation," she said. The drought has not killed wildlife and conservation officials have not had problems with smaller animals. "The situation is still manageable," Maina said.

African elephants are the largest living land mammals, weighing up to 6.5 tons (5.9 metric tons). An elephant eats approximately 5 percent of its body weight and drinks about 30 to 50 gallons (about 110 to 190 liters) of water a day, according to the Africa Wildlife Foundation. On Jan. 1, President Mwai Kibaki said that food shortages would affect some 2.5 million Kenyans in northern districts and declared the crisis a national disaster. The crisis hit as Kenya forecast a surplus harvest of 62,500 metric tons (68,894 tons) of maize. Farmers in other parts of the country were waiting in lines for up to two weeks to sell their maize, the nation's staple food, to the national cereals board. The Kibaki administration has been accused by lawmakers, citizens and the media of failing to respond effectively to the worsening situation in Kenya's drought-stricken north.

They say the government had adequate warning of the problem but seemed to respond only after newspaper and television images over the December holiday season moved the public to raise money and food for the affected people. Officials have described Kenya's latest drought as the worst in 22 years, reports the AP. N.U.

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