Among the Elephants Blog

Buffalos return to the Springs
November 15, 2016
Ryan Wilkie, International Intern



On our regular mammal census route through southern Buffalo Springs we came across a group of mammals that we did not expect – Buffalos. This may surprise many readers, of course there out to be buffalos in Buffalo Springs. However, the iconic animals that lend their name to the national reserve have not been sighted there for 5 years. Such is the irony of their absence that when Daud proclaimed to have spotted buffalo up ahead the rest of us took it as a joke, believing he was winding us up with an outrageous claim that would have us searching for a phantom animal that could not possibly be found here. He may as well have said he’d seen a tiger.

Poring over Save The Elephants’ records we can see that there were regular sightings of buffalos for the first few years of mammal census drives through both Buffalo Springs and Samburu, Buffalos were recorded on almost half the total number of censuses conducted from 2005 to 2009. Then in October 2009: disaster. The Buffalo Springs – Samburu ecosystem was hit by a severe drought after the first rains failed in April causing a dramatic collapse in the buffalo population. The Ewaso River shrivelled into nothing but a dry and dusty riverbed and the lack of water caused animals to die daily in their droves. Each day the smell of death would permeate the atmosphere. Carcasses of 6 to 10 buffalo would be found littering the landscape, slumped together under the shade of an acacia in a vain attempt to seek refuge from the scorching sun.

By the end of 2009 only a fraction of the buffalo population was left, many that survived the drought relocated to the nearby Shaba National Reserve, leaving only a handful in Buffalo Springs. The few that remained here were recorded sporadically until 2011 at which point not a single buffalo remained in the two reserves on either side of the river.

Shaba National Reserve with its almost permanent swamps welling up from the ground has since remained home to a significant number of buffalo, which are often seen painted white with dried mud and dust. Curiously, however, these buffalo have not shown any signs of making the short journey across from Shaba to Buffalo Springs to return to their former stomping grounds by the Ngaremara swamps. Yet that is exactly where we found them, at a time when Buffalo Springs once again begs for the rains to arrive in earnest, a group of seven buffalo wallowing in the shallow swamps staring down the vehicle as if to pronounce their return to the area that carries their name. We hope that this marks a triumphant return of the species to the reserve as things look set to change in Samburu and Buffalo Springs.

A buffalo in Shaba - painted a distinct white colour.  @Ryan Wilkie/STE A buffalo in Shaba - painted a distinct white colour.                                                @Ryan Wilkie/STE