On Local Government: No snows on Kilimanjaro

Wildebeest with flamingos in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo by Bob Pinzler

by Bob Pinzler

On a trip to Kenya a few weeks ago, I came face to face with the power of a changing climate. Two of the three safari camps I visited showed signs of an ecology ravaged by the result of man’s abuse of our environment. 

The most dramatic was at Amboseli National Park in the southeastern part of the country. The broad savannah was parched from four years of unrelenting drought. One can still see the skeletons of the many wildebeest, Cape buffalo and domestic cattle that died during last year’s onslaught of dryness. It says something about devastation of that type when the hyenas and jackals, which are the usual “cleanup squad” for deceased wildlife, have had enough.

However, Amboseli is not all parched. Parts of it are fed from glacial meltwater from nearby Mount Kilimanjaro, forming marshes that host not only grasses which elephants love, but also an array of wildlife not often seen in that part of Africa. Flamingoes, Egyptian geese, crowned cranes and white pelicans can be seen in multitudes.

But, when the clouds that often cover the top of Kilimanjaro cleared, the future of Amboseli was hard to ignore. The famous “snows” atop this old volcano are nearly gone. Within 15 to 25 years, the top of this famous mountain will be bare.

The result will likely be the end of Amboseli as it is known today. Much will be dependent on the capricious rain that seems to keep missing this area when it does drop. 

Elsewhere in Kenya, the effects of climate change can also be seen. The famous Masai Mara, where the astounding migration of wildebeest and zebras occur annually has been severely disrupted by the same drought that has affected Amboseli. The tall grasses that are the reason for the migration from Tanzania were few and far between. Thus, the migration pattern, which has long been reliable, has been altered. 

Changes affect Kenya more than many other places. A large portion of Kenya’s economy is based on tourism. The core of that industry is wildlife sightings. If large swaths of Kenya become inhospitable to that wildlife, those animals will migrate elsewhere, likely southward. Political borders mean nothing to them.

As I was leaving Nairobi for the trip home, I saw posters for the upcoming African Climate Summit. The conundrum is clear. The industrialized world emits pollution, and Africa suffers the consequences. How that disparity is dealt with will be the existential question for an area of the world of astounding beauty and richness of wildlife. 

Kenya and places like it are those we cannot afford to lose. Yet, our propensity for ignoring places like them may result in their doom.

Cape buffalo in the marsh.


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