KENYA

Kenyan farmer saves thirsty wildlife from drought

Filling up a watering hole in Tsavo National Park, posted on Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua’s Facebook page on February 15, 2019.
Filling up a watering hole in Tsavo National Park, posted on Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua’s Facebook page on February 15, 2019.

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For three years now, Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua, from the farming community of Kajire in southern Kenya, has been ferrying water over long distances to Tsavo West National Park, quenching the thirst of the menagerie of local inhabitants – elephants, zebras, buffaloes and more.

The Tsavo region has seen increasingly regular episodes of extreme drought in recent decades, and is affected by the wider drought ongoing in the country since 2014.

Images from a Facebook post on October 13, 2018.

“I used to fill up with water five times a day. By the time I got home in the evening, it was dark.”

I started doing this in March 2016. There was a very big drought and it killed a huge number of animals [editor’s note: the entire country was experiencing a drought at this time].

I found a buffalo sniffing at an empty water hole; it was clearly very thirsty. Then it just clicked in my mind. When thirsty animals try to find water, they often go to where humans live. This creates conflict between humans and animals, who sometimes kill or injure one another, and property gets destroyed. So rather than them come to us, I wanted to bring water to them.

Mwalua filling up a watering hole.

I rented a truck from a town called Voi, and started making the 140-kilometre round trip from the town to the watering hole up to five times a day. By the time I got home in the evening, it was dark. Initially, I used my own money to rent the truck and buy water from the local water authority [at around €27 per 10,000 litres], but eventually people started chipping and I was able to buy a vehicle.

At first, a lot of people told me, “Let nature take its course.” But I said, “This is not nature, it’s global warming. It’s the fault of what human beings are doing, and we’re supposed to be responsible for our actions.”

Happy drinkers, posted on October 20, 2018.

 

Videos of his work on viral media pages have exploded: one published two years ago has more than 90 million views, while another, published last year, has more than 50 million.

Harnessing this huge amount of interest, Mwalua has expanded his operations, founding the Mwalua Wildlife Trust. He raised a staggering US$450,000 (around €408,000) on a GoFundMe page between September 2016 and July 2018, but then shut the campaign down, because he says the money stopped coming through.

 

I just started posting on my Facebook. Then a guy from K24 [a Kenyan television station] called me and came to highlight my work. After that, the rest of the Kenyan media came, then international media started coming, even people from Japan and Korea. It was overwhelming!

I started using excavation diggers to dig water holes. We dug more than 25 of them in the park, and constructed concrete water holes which can hold water for four to six months after rainfall.

I still drive the water truck myself, but I now pay an office worker and another driver, and I have three volunteers.

A lot of the GoFundMe money hasn’t reached me. $250,000 has arrived, but the rest got stopped by someone in the US. I’m still pursuing it.

Mwalua's team building a concrete watering hole.

“There’s no hope for a better situation unless humans change their ways and help the climate.”

There is still a drought and it gets worse each year. There’s no hope for a better situation unless humans change their ways and help the climate. I’m planning to plant a lot of trees in schools and communities nearby.

I’m also improving my own community’s farming methods, for example I’m encouraging people to plant sunflowers rather than maize, because they attract bees and therefore deter elephants from getting too close. I also want to install better irrigation and water reservoirs.

People really appreciate what I’ve done so far. I work with kids a lot as well, and they are inspired by me.

Mwalua (centre) alongside his community in Kajire, posted on October 15, 2018.

“Passion is a very strong force. When you’re consumed by something, you only notice later on that you’re sick.”

Mwalua has suffered kidney failure for the last five years, and has had several operations. But he has no intention of slowing down.

 

All the time I’ve continued ferrying water to the wells, even on the [two days a week] I have dialysis treatment. I jump out of my bed in the clinic as soon as it’s done and rush to take water to the animals.

Last month, I went to India with my brother for a transplant of his kidney into my body. It turned out his kidney was too weak, so they couldn’t do it.

Passion is a very strong force. When you’re consumed by something, you only notice later on that you’re sick. Just before doing this interview I was on dialysis. When you want to do something good for our planet, you just keep going.

Article by Peter O’Brien (@POB_journo)