In 2015, our former Executive Director, Simon Maddrell travelled to Northern Kenya to see if sand dams could help transform the lives of people in this remote, drought-prone area. But he found that it’s not just people who are suffering from lack of water, but wildlife, and in particular elephants, too. Read his story and find out how you can help.

Acting in self-defense

"In January (2015), an elephant was shot in Northern Kenya. It is widespread and worrying news that elephant poaching has been steadily on the rise, chiefly to fuel demand for ivory in the Far East.African elephant

"Yet, the elephant I'm talking about was not a victim of greed for ivory, but of conflict over water: This elegant giant, startled at a water hole by a man and his livestock, had charged in panic. The man, equally startled, and in fear for his life, had fired his gun in self-defence.

"Simon Njalis, a wildlife warden, told me: 'We heard a gunshot and went to the scene… we followed the blood and found the carcass two to three kilometres away.'

"I remember the overwhelming smell most of all. The macabre carcass was barely recognisable as the beautiful animal I admire above all others.

"After being shot it had stumbled two to three kilometres - falling, at last, within the boundaries of Lekurruki conservancy – a community owned conservation area in Kenya.

Sharing space

"However, this region is suffering from ever longer periods of drought. People and wildlife, forced to travel ever further in search of water, often come into conflict at dwindling water sources. It is a recipe for disaster for people and elephants alike. Simon Njalis explained 'This is the elephants’ home... when there’s a drought, people bring their cows into the conservancy area to graze and the elephants get scared and defend their home.'

"People do not live in isolation from nature. They are intimately connected to the resources it provides. Linking wildlife conservation with improved livelihoods is the best way to protect vulnerable species and create opportunities for some of the poorest people to transform their lives. Providing a secure future for Africa’s elephants requires better water and land management too.

The solution is sand dams

"For rural drylands like Lekurruki, where many elephants live, that means sand dams. Sand dams are a perfect water source for elephants, who are well known for digging water from sandy riverbeds – just like many rural dryland people. And, just like people, they prefer water found this way to open water holes because it is clean.

Please consider making a donation today to enable more pastoralist communities to extend the network of sand dams in the Northern Rangelands, providing their families, neighbours, livestock as well as wildlife with clean water for life.

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