As the hunger continues to bite in Kenya, many poor people are turning to what is locally available to feed themselves and their families. However, in a bizarre twist of fate, the prevailing drought has resulted in the drying of Yala swamp on the shores of L. Victoria, depriving the semi-aquatic Sitatunga out of its marshy habitat and making it extremely vulnerable to poaching. According to the residents, “We can’t die of hunger when we have a lot of food provided by God in this swamp.”
The Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) is a specialized semi-aquatic antelope adapted to living in swampy or permanently marshy wetland in African tropics. Though Sitatunga is widely distributed in the tropics, nowhere is population its high. It has a patchy and discontinuous distribution due to its specialized habitat requirements. The ever increasing disturbance, fragmentation and even destruction of potential habitats in many parts of Sitatunga geographic range, present concern for the continued survival of the many of these isolated and often small populations.
In Kenya, the western region is the eastern most range of the species in Africa. Due to the high anthropogenic pressure on wetlands in the country, the antelope has continuously suffered loss of the habitat and illegal hunting, bringing its population down to the verge of regional extinction, Sitatunga is now restricted to the Wetlands of L. Victoria, Nzoia basin, Nandi wetlands and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy where it was introduced.
An article by The Standard Newspaper yesterday reported that residents of Siaya’s Yala Swamp ” Driven by hunger, … have invaded the complex wetland and are now killing the rare sitatunga and waterbuck” The report says that up to four animals are killed daily and sold in the makeshift market. Going by the findings of the last national survey (2003) on the species population distribution in Kenya, it will not take long to completely wipe out this locally endangered species in Kenya. The study, (carried out by Iregi Mwenja, then a KWS deputy Warden for Saiwa Swamp National Park) found that only a few hundred Sitatungas are remaining in small pockets of isolated population that are all facing threats of local extinction. More....