In the scorching planes of Kenya, one might expect a wild animal to appear in the distance. On one bone-dry day in November, however, a new figure emerged lumbering over the hazy horizon: a big, blue truck.
In the driver’s seat sat Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua, a local pea farmer. He hauled with him 10 thousand liters of water over the dusty road. Nine bull elephants, which might be prone to charge, watched him as he arrived without a fuss. In fact, whole hosts of animals were waiting for him. Patrick had been coming there for over a month. He is the Water Man.
A relentless drought plagues the Tsavo West National Park in Kenya due to the effects of global warming. Patrick grew up here and discovered a passion for wild animals and conservation projects. When the drought came, he used a rental truck to deliver life-saving drinking water to local water points in the Taita Hills Conservancy. When the dry spell continued, he started going more frequently. Now, the wildlife recognizes the sound of his engine and gathers around to watch him go about his business.
Pointing the water tap towards a dry basin, he used a wrench to open the valve and water came spraying out. Buffalo, zebra, and elephants waited for the fresh smell of drinking water to fill the air as Patrick removed droppings that might contaminate the water point. Finally, the animals approached and quenched their thirst.
Patrick had committed not to let any wildlife die from lack of water, but his good efforts were going underappreciated. After all, this was not his job and he had no revenue to support it.
Every morning he took his rental truck to the selling point at the Coast Water Services Board, where he waited for an hour to fill his tank. Each fill-up cost him $250 alone. Then he drove 70 km, spending money on gas, to deliver the water so desperately needed. Everything changed when his story got out.
People all over town started hearing about Patrick’s story. They discovered his conservation project called the Tsavo Volunteers (facebook page here), which called on local schools to raise awareness about wildlife protection. People were so moved by his water deliveries to dozens of parched lions and antelopes that they decided to help. In no time, the “Water Is Life” campaign was born and Patrick was able to bring his positive message to thousands of viewers.
Today, the campaign’s Go Fund Me page has attracted over 7,000 individual donations and raised more than $260,500! Angie Brown, Tami Calliope, and Cher Callaway – three women in the US who had never met – united under one banner to raise money for Patrick’s. Callaway began posting messages from Patrick as he updated them on his progress.
Today was Zebras day!” He wrote in February, “…they came so close and some were drinking as we were filling the water to the water hole.”
The overall goal is to buy Patrick his own truck and compensate him for the deliveries, but their faith in the cause has gone deeper. Callaway works with Patrick to protect community farmlands from elephants that are destroying crops. The farmers shoot them with poison arrows to drive them away, but Patrick uses a different solution. He buys beehives that deter the five-ton giants away from the fields.
Patrick’s care for the animals of Tsavo West has gone international, spreading his story all over the world. But whenever he’s asked about it, he always points back to the creatures themselves.
We aren’t really receiving rain the way we used to,” he told The Dodo. “From last year, from June, there was no rain completely. So I started giving animals water because I thought, ‘If I don’t do that, they will die.’”
At 41 years old, it would seem Patrick’s career in conservation is just taking off. He updates his Facebook page with pictures of backhoes digging new water points in Taita Hills, and scores of buffalo and baboons that show up to drink thirstily from the glossy pools.
Long day with the [Kenya Wildlife Service] of Tsavo West in the park driving into dusty, rough roads of Tsavo… looking into places of putting up new waterholes and water troughs for animals. The scenery is great and amazing. I had a great meeting with 2 wardens and by next week we are starting working non-stop into the projects…”
Patrick comes face to face with these wild animals every day, pouring them water in the morning and gently scaring them away from farmer’s crops at night. One might expect to see his truck rumbling along the road into the hot Kenyan wilderness, or catch the white torch of his spotlight and the blare of his bullhorn, scaring elephants into the night to protect them from the farmers.
Yet, the drought goes on. Patrick will continue emptying his truck into the water points as buffalo cool off in the mud patches and watch him work. They expect the rain to return this March and bring peace back to the arid lands and longing animals. Until then, however, Patrick and the wildlife he loves will keep their eyes on the sky, waiting for the first dark cloud to let loose. Then he’ll get back in his big, blue truck and disappear over the baked horizon with the promise to return the next day, and bring another tank of precious water for his many friends.
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