Alarm as warthog population falls to 18-year low


Warthogs at Uhuru Gardens, in Nairobi on November 20, 2013. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The population of warthogs in Kenyan has dropped to a low of 18 years, new data shows, increasing fears that the hardy animals are at risk of joining the list of threatened species.

Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that there were 13,500 warthogs in the country last year — the lowest since 2000.

And in what may indicate the gravity of the situation, there were 18,600 of warthogs in the country in 2008 — meaning that the number fell by 27 per cent in the decade to last year.

Warthogs are adaptable and can go for long periods without water, as much as several months in the dry season, according to National Geographic.

Warthogs feed on grass, roots, berries, bark, and bulbs.

The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), the conservation group, pointed out that adverse climatic conditions are some of the biggest threats facing warthogs, which are members of the same family as domestic pigs.

“A major threat to warthogs is increasing droughts caused by extreme climate changes. Smaller species struggle to adapt to the drastic reduction in rainfall and drying up of water holes,” the group said in a note.

AWF added that reduced access to clean water for human consumption is claiming wildlife and ecosystems, setting the stage for a conflict in the battle between man and beast to quench their thirst.

Erratic rains

The country has in recent years experienced erratic rains, leading to water shortages in national parks and reserves.

In 2017, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said that dozens of animals died due to lack of water in the year that the government declared drought a national disaster.

“There were some dams which dried up and forced a number of animals to go seeking water and struggling to access water,” the State agency said in 2017. Lack of enough water also pushed animals into human settlements, increasing the risk of human-wildlife conflict.

Another animal conservancy organisation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has added the warthog on its list of threatened wildlife species.

The AWF adds that the species is facing threats from human encroachment in its habitats across Africa with many farmers killing the grazers for raiding their wheat, rice, beans or groundnut fields.

Conservation focus

The alarming fall in the species, which is scientifically called Phacochoerus africanus, in Kenya’s national parks and reserves comes on the back of increased conservation focus on the rhino and elephant populations.

Kenya has since 2016 shifted focus to saving its elephants and rhinos largely due to increased demand for rhino horns and ivory in Asian countries, particularly China and Vietnam.

The number of elephants rose by 2,000 from 2017 to 22,000 last year while black rhinos increased from about 350 in three decades to 750 at end of last year. The country had about 20,000 black rhinos in the 1970s.

Tourism remains of the country’s top foreign exchange earner as tourists flock the country to experience its rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Data by the Ministry of Tourism shows that the country earned Sh157 billion from the sector, a 31.2 rise from Sh119 billion in 2017.