Drought-induced famine leaves trail of wildlife death and starvation in Kenya

This video contains distressing images

If the rains don't come by the end of the year, the death toll will only rise - ITV News correspondent John Irvine reports

Warning - this article and the video report above contain images some may find distressing

The dawn was stunning. The sun appeared over the acacia trees to cast an orange glow over the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

On the savannah below Africa’s highest peak, zebras, wildebeest and gazelles were looking for grass.

We saw a wildebeest struggling to get to its feet. Sleepy head? Sadly not. The animal couldn’t stand up because it was dying.

Wildebeest have been particularly hard hit by the drought-related famine that’s killing herbivores in this part of northern Kenya.

Perversely there is plenty of water about. Several swamps exist thanks to underground springs fed by snow melt from Kilimanjaro.

Plenty of animals spend their days feeding in these swamps, but the food they are eating is not nutritious enough to sustain them.

They need to consume grass that isn’t growing because the rains keep failing.

Scavengers such as vultures and hyenas are prospering as animals succumb to starvation and drought. Credit: ITV News

Vultures and hyenas are thriving. Carrion dots the landscape. Elephants are among the dead.

The elephant herds in this part of Kenya are among the most observed and monitored in the world. Over the last 50 years they have done well.

Conservationists monitor individual animals. They are given names when they reach the age of three.

Tolstoy was 51 when he succumbed. A famous bull, he was mortally wounded when speared by an angry farmer who caught the animal eating his crops.

Ranger Job Lekanayia tells John Irvine that Tolstoy "was my friend. I knew him better than some members of my own family.” Credit: ITV News

Conservationists say the absence of food on the savannah - caused by the drought - forced Tolstoy onto the farmland.

Standing over Tolstoy’s carcass, a Kimana Sanctuary ranger called Job Lekanayia told us that for the last two years he had kept tabs on the huge elephant every day.

“He was one of the most famous tuskers. He was my friend. I knew him better than some members of my own family,” said Job.

Conservationists say that over the summer around 60 elephants have died as a result of the drought.

The remains of an elephant on the dry ground.

More than half the fatalities are calves which starved because their malnourished mothers stopped producing milk.

The food shortages have also affected herdsmen who are struggling to find pastures for their cattle.

The ranger Job showed us the bones of another dead elephant.  They had been picked clean by hyenas.

Job said that when the elephant collapsed he and two colleagues spent the night with the great animal so that scavengers didn’t attack him before he passed away.

The elephants of this, the Amboseli ecosystem, are among Africa’s most successful.  Poaching, for example, is very rare.

Today, a changing climate and landscape is exacting a toll.

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