Wednesday, 29 July 2020

DAVID SHELDRICK AND TSAVO

Major David Shieldrick was the youngest company commander who served within the Kings African Rifles during the Second World War. He came to Kenya after active service in Abyssinia and Burma and joined one of the first professional hunting safari operation firm to be established in Nairobi. He was married with two young kids but he latter divorced his first wife and married Daphne. He was a leader with sound knowledge on natural history and African wildlife and he was given a job as a warden by the then colonial government, and sent to transform the unforgiving scrublands of Taru desert at the southern regions of the country into a viable National Park.

Tsavo was devoid of permanent settlements because it was inhospitable , remote , untouched , very wild , and it was entirely covered in an entanglement of dense scrub vegetation , too arid for cultivation and livestock because it was also invested with tsetse fly. Tsavo had thousands of elephants and an equal number of black rhinos and plenty of plain game and it was believed to be where the northern and southern forms of fauna met . David Sheldrick and team hacked and carved out roads out of their Ndololo base camp on the Voi river and they had also to think of preserving the natural habitats where the wildlife thrives by cataloging the appalling loss of wildlife they uncovered in the bush during their patrols caused by ruthless band of local poachers.

In the mid 50s over 1200 elephants and hundreds of black rhinos were being killed every year in Tsavo and this took toll on the park wildlife but the few park rangers were reluctant to confront poachers who were armed with deadly poisoned arrows and they were also unwilling to arrest members of their own tribes for fear of witchcraft and reprisals , which prompted the management to request Nairobi to give them the right tools and equipment to help them cope with the crisis. Poaching was mainly done by the Wariangulu people who were also called “ the long bow tribe” who were professional elephant poachers , and the Kamba tribe also came into the park from the north and they were not as experienced as the wariangulu but they were proficient killers and they hunted in big groups. The two tribes seldom trespassed on each other’s hunting grounds, mutually observing unwritten laws enforced by the threat of reprisal through witchcraft , and poison was used by both tribes which was sold to them by the Giriama tribe. The poison was deadly and active as soon as it entered the blood stream and it could kill an elephant within a couple of hours and humans within minutes , disrupting muscular rhythm of the arteries thus affecting the heart. They normally tested it on frogs and lizards for potency before sale, where they used a thorn dipped in poison to jab it, and in absence of a live specimen the seller would prick his arm and would place little poison on the blood path as it flowed and would see how first it turned dark. Poison making is still a highly specialized profession and a closely guarded secret among the giriama people and it is still a very lucrative business and there is no known antipode to the acokanthera three arrow poison made by the Coastal region tribe,  and dying is cruel and agonizing mostly if the poison is fresh.

David sheldrick was eventually given the nod to recruit rangers and he sent his assistant Bill Woodley to the north to recruit from the fearless tribes of the Turkana, Samburu, Somali and Oroma who were skilled in bushcraft and after months of training they formed the first field force and they were sent into the bush to confront poachers and this became an example of an extreme effective anti poaching unit that would prove to be the blue print for all the other national parks in East Africa. The most remarkable poachers of the 1960s included Galgalo Kafonde from the Wariangulu tribe and Wambua Makula from the Kamba nation. Galgalo was once arrested by the field units after a tip off but later managed to escape from custody but he surrendered after many years when guns entered the poaching cycle,  but Wambua was arrested and he turned to be a vital informant who assisted in apprehending many poaching gangs in Tsavo.

David sheldricks efforts in combating poaching were eventually recognized and a Mr. Noel Simon who was the executive head of the newly established East African Wildlife Society lobbied the government to assist Tsavo and the then governor of Kenya , Sir Evelyn Baring gave the campaign to employ more rangers a nod and he also issued a directive to all magistrates to issue deterrent sentences to those found guilty of offenses related to wildlife and mostly the dealers. This was very welcoming news to the Tsavo team because they received two additional anti poaching units from the Game Department and one was stationed at Makindu and the other was stationed at Hola near Tana river which took care of the northern frontier.

David sheldrick believed that it was important to ascertain the correct movement of elephant herds in and out of the park to asses their range noting that some might wonder off into the many hunting blocks that dotted the periphery of the park so he constructed a primitive way of marking as many elephants as possible using a container filled with paint and having a muzzle at the one end and connected to a compressed air cylinder at the other end. He first tested its effectiveness and range on the orphaned elephants in his compound and the real trials were done at the Mudanda rock water hole. The limited range of the device was always going to be a hindrance but over weeks they managed to mark many wild elephants. Keeping tabs with the marked elephants also provide to be very hard since the management did not have aerial surveillance capabilities at that time but they chanced upon them during their normal travels in the park and outside and it is through this that they observed that elephant herds were not restricted in their movements and they utilized the entire park and beyond, depending on fresh vegetation and water holes. It is important to note that the paint only lasted till the next rainy season when they wallowed and covered themselves in mud, but it did serve its purpose. ..... END OF PART ONE..


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