04-10-2020 by Giovanna Grampa
Great news in the Tsavo park for animals celebrating, just in these days, a new location to drink with the use of green technology. Solar energy has made its entrance into the savannah thanks to the DSWT (David Sheldrich Wildlife Trust) that has created a decidedly innovative well. Until a few months ago the project was top secret: we were aware of it but the stop in Italy, due to a pandemic, had prevented us from attending the realization.
So we can't wait to see it and we head, excited for the news that awaits us, towards the pilar 158 on the road from Voi Safari Lodge to Mudanda Rock, final direction Manyani Gate.
Along the way, before reaching the lake of Irima, nature appears to us charred by the recent fires that have devoured the savannah: here and there, spikes of burnt trees surrounded by extinguished embers and riarsi interrupt the immensity of the plain that stretches in front of us, unrolling like an endless carpet at our feet. In the background the city of You and the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, with their everyday life.
Even the hill where Denys Finch Hatton fell with his Gipsy Moth biplane on May 14, 1931, losing his life, is covered with ash now reddish as a result of the earth carried by the wind: not a blade of grass, the few remaining trees are all burned and their trunks blackened and bent by the flames are the banner of an environmental sacrifice that moves to tears.
At point 158 we turn right onto the road leading to Lugard's Falls: the absence of tire tracks and the infinite number of overlapping and indistinguishable footprints along the way testify that this area is not frequented by anyone. The total absence of water and the dense vegetation are a deterrent for tourists who risk not seeing animals, wasting precious time.
The curiosity increases with every minute and I can't imagine what the area we are heading to will be like and especially if the watering will already be frequented.
After about six kilometers we finally notice a low construction where there are eight solar panels with an electrified fence and all around stones piled one on top of the other to protect the plant from possible attacks of animals, especially elephants that with their weight would be able to destroy everything.
The immersion pump works at a depth of about 250 meters and through the energy of solar panels brings to the surface fresh water channeled in three pipes that feed as many ponds well spaced apart. I let my gaze wander around, pleasantly surprised.
I feel like I'm entering a private club for thirsty animals: they are not simply ponds, but diamonds set in jewels that embellish the velvety red earth of the savannah, surrounded by dry vegetation where even the large branches of trees, now dead, look like decorative elements wanted by Mother Nature's imaginative architect. The ochre-colored contours are reflected in the water combined with the cobalt blue of the sky, while the savannah emanates its spicy scents and the joyful and sonorous singing of African birds interrupts the silence, master of all things. Emotions that leave no one indifferent.
There are footprints everywhere and among them stand out with an unmistakable sharpness the footprints of adult lions and puppies quite recent. A dik dik hidden in a bush every now and then peeps out looking at us lost with his big round eyes and an elegant and supple giraffe walking on his sinuous neck some bufaga looks at us languidly waiting to reach the water, bending awkwardly on his knees, to finally quench his thirst with fresh and fresh water that comes out continuously from a pipe protected by a ballast of stones, perfectly in tune with the colors of the savannah.
The waterproofed bottom of each pond will avoid the absorption of water by the ground and will progressively increase their surface area: only the high temperatures will make some of them evaporate, but the supply will be constant and continuous. A true paradise for all animals, large and small, without barriers or protective walls. And I, as usual, am in ecstasy.
To fully understand the novelty of the project it is necessary to retrace the history of the various sources for water management, built to water the animals in Tsavo. Initially, we are talking about over thirty years ago, there were only flood plains, small depressions of the ground that used the natural slope to make water flow during the rainy season. Traditional pools, still existing today, destined to run out during the dry season until they became first brackish and muddy water and then completely dry and ineffective areas. Real traps, unfortunately sometimes fatal, for animals that often get stuck in the mud.
Then the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) found sponsors, and we among them, to build rectangular drinking troughs similar to drinking troughs by connecting them by means of pumps that drew water from pipes for civil use. The filling was regulated by a float but the technicians did not foresee that the elephants with their weight would break the underground pipes at a shallow depth and that the float would be destroyed in a short time. Result: destroyed puddles, still visible today at the Pipeline, and thirsty animals. The various 10,000-liter drinking water tanks purchased and transported by tanker trucks to fill these troughs were of little use: in a few days they were greedily emptied by increasingly thirsty elephants, while small animals could not even reach the water, hampered by the edge of the tank.
Then the first Kijito (small river in Swahili language) donated by DSWT were born, which still use wind energy today. A step forward but perfectible. Turning around the Tsavo between Aruba and the plain of Ndara you can see pylons that support a large wheel that turns and changes direction in relation to the gusts of wind. It is a structure built to harness the energy of the wind through the drive of the blades, activate a depth pump and bring the water to a round puddle built of concrete and surrounded by a wall about sixty centimeters high. A hole for the overflow ensures the exit of excess water that forms in the ground in front of small ponds more or less extensive. There are four of them throughout the Tsavo, still functional and precious as gold, especially during periods of drought. However, experience has taught us that sometimes the wind is too weak and the water brought to the surface cannot adequately fill the puddle, let alone feed the ponds that tend to dry out.
Another drawback is caused by elephants who are not content to soak their trunks to take generous sips of water but enter the puddle with their whole body to drink, cool down and at the same time dirty what should always be clean water with their droppings. The accumulation of this "sludge" over time clogs the water outlet hole and the pump stops working. Periodic maintenance is therefore necessary to remove the dirt and re-insert new water while waiting for the next cleaning. In the meantime, entire families of elephants persist in consolidating their habits, triggering the vicious circle of constantly dirtying the water that flows clean from the aquifer.
Another project dating back to a few years ago and carried out in the Kanderi plain has already provided for the use of solar panels but the water has been channelled again into three puddles spaced apart, still made of concrete and surrounded by a small wall. The problem, however, is always the same: it is essential a constant cleaning of the bottom made muddy by elephants.
And now finally the idea of solar panels avoiding concrete buildings with edges to give the possibility to all animals, from dik dik to the elephant, to drink flush to the ground, in a pond without barriers of any kind with extreme ease. Who knows what elephants will invent this time to stimulate man to build structures more and more suitable to their infinite needs. It is a matter of waiting a while and we will know.
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