As Kenya Maasai herders fight to keep their livestock alive in a severe drought, they are forced to witness the heartbreaking sight of cows that are too weak to stand, have sores on their hides from resting on the ground, and have ribcages protruding from their sides.
In addition to serving as the primary source of food and revenue for the Maasai people, livestock serves as a sign of social standing and a constant presence in their daily lives. Cows coexist with humans in enclosed spaces known as kraals.
With four consecutive rainy seasons failing to materialize, the drought in Kenya, along with neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia, is at its worst in 40 years. This has wiped out cattle and crops in some parts and exacerbated the famine issue.
Jackson Sane, a Maasai pastoralist, stated, “This is the kind of scenario we have all found ourselves in, with emaciated livestock,” at a cattle market in the town of Ilbisil, south of Nairobi. The tan-colored ones next to me could sell for up to 60,000 or 65,000 shillings ($500-$530). Currently, they are being sold for only $12 (or 1,500 Kenyan shillings).
Due to a shortage of food, the animals at the market were so feeble that men had to hoist them into and out of cars like bulky packages.
According to cattle seller Joshua Kedoya, prices for both gasoline and corn meal have skyrocketed, while those for animals have drastically declined. We simply come to the market because we are in a desperate situation and have no other options, he continued.
Herder Ntyuyoto Sepeina pointed to cows munching on hay that had been bought from vendors at prices that were bare minimum.
“Most of these cows you see here have lost all their calves to the drought. We sometimes manage to save a few, especially when we feed them like this,” he stated. “But a majority of them end up dying.”