The devastating effects of a drought caused by the delayed March-April long rains prompted more than 6,000 pastoralists in Loima, Turkana West, to flee towards Karamoja, northern Uganda, in search of pasture.
Mr George Nawi, from Nanaam village, was among them.
After some of his goats died due to lack of water and pasture, he could not stay any longer in Kenya to see his sheep, cattle, donkeys and camels die too.
He and others crossed over to Kotido District in Uganda.
“While we were there, some of my livestock became sick because of the huge concentration of animals in the grazing fields and at water points,” Mr Nawi said, adding that the situation compounded his problems.
He said he primarily relied on traditional methods of treating livestock, especially his donkeys, which suffered debilitating diseases.
Fortunately, back home, rains started falling in May, resulting in plenty of pasture.
Most pastoralists immediately returned home using the Loima border corridor.
But as soon as they got home, another disaster struck.
Donkeys started dying in their numbers, especially in Nanaam and Namoruputh villages, sending residents into panic.
Mr Lokodo Kamunyen, from Namoruputh village, said that at least five donkeys died there, just a few days after crossing back from Uganda.
Careful to prevent the spread of the unknown disease, the Turkana County government has rolled out a vaccination drive for most known diseases that affect the animals, especially in pastoralist areas.
In partnership with the Agency for Cross Border Pastoralists Development and Brooke Kenya, the county is now vaccinating donkeys against colic, helminthiasis, trypanosomiasis, mange, rabies, wounds and abscesses.
Deputy County Director for Veterinary Services Jane Akale said more than 200 donkeys were treated in the two affected villages, with at least 3,000 along the border being targeted.
Step up surveillance
She said the treatment is part of the county’s strategy to step up surveillance on livestock diseases after pastoralists reported deaths of their donkeys.
“The ongoing treatment will prevent the spread of diseases to donkeys that were left behind. The campaign kicked off in Nanaam along the Mogila ranges near the South Sudan border and in Namoruputh along the Kenya-Uganda border,” Dr Akale said, adding that these were the worst-hit areas.
Mr Sam Kimeli, the director of the Agency for Cross Border Pastoralists Development, said the vaccination is aimed at boosting the donkey population in the county.
Treatment of donkeys, he said, is part of the organisation’s critical activities aimed at ensuring the well-being of donkeys.
“The donkeys are considered as working animals in Turkana; their value and contribution cannot be underestimated. That is why we targeted them so that they continue providing labour and transport to locals along the border,” he said.
Ms Dorcas Ing’olan, whose donkeys benefited from the vaccination drive, said her animals were dewormed and those that had wounds and abscesses were treated.
“I learned that we contribute to most wounds on the donkeys, especially when we pierce their noses to tie ropes. We were discouraged from piercing them and taught about better ways of roping them when we want to use them for transport,” Ms Ing’olan said.
County Pastoral Economy Executive Philip Aemun said they had procured drugs worth Sh36 million for treating livestock across all the seven sub-counties of Turkana.
The vaccines, he said, had been delivered to all the sub-counties’ cold chain stores.
He noted that the prolonged drought that had forced herders to migrate to new areas in search of water and pasture left their livestock vulnerable to diseases.
“We have decentralised essential drug supplies to enhance early preparedness and timely response to the outbreak of diseases and ensure effective disease control in affected areas,” Mr Aemun said.
That investment in animal health, he said, is part of the strategies to enhance food security.