By Henry Neondo
There has been a sharp decline in elephant population in one of Kenya’s largest wildlife ecosystem thanks to poaching, livestock incursions into protected areas, charcoal burning and general changes in land use patterns.
Provisional results from the just-concluded 2014 aerial census of elephants and other large mammals in Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem by the Kenya Wildlife Service show that the elephant population is about 11,000, compared to 12, 573 in the previous census three years ago.
The aerial counts have been conducted to establish the trends of elephants in the expansive Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem and they are held every three years. Mkomazi in Tanzania, Tsavo West, Tsavo East, Chyulu Hills national parks, South Kitui National Reserve as well as the adjacent areas of Taita ranches and Mackinnon area in Kwale were covered in the four days. The total aerial census counted elephants and other large mammals.
Dr Erustus Kanga, the Kenya Wildlife Service Senior Assistant Director for Biodiversity says that since 1999 when systematic counts were started, the elephant population has oscillated as follows: 1999 (9,447 elephants) 2002 (9,284), 2005 (11,742), 2008 (11,733), 2011 (12, 573), and 2014 (11,076).
Aerial counts of the Tsavo ecosystem have been carried out since the 1960's. The results help KWS and stakeholders to understand wildlife numbers, wildlife distribution, trends in wildlife numbers and trends in land use changes outside the Government protected areas.
Armed with these information, policy makers and park management are able make sound decisions on resource allocation for operations and conflict management.
Mr Ben Kavu, the KWS Deputy Director in charge of Devolution and Community Wildlife Service, this morning announced the provisional results at census tallying centre at Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge.
The results also indicated that a good number and diversity of wildlife exists outside of the boundaries of the national parks. Mr Kavu called on County Governments and other land owners to borrow a leaf from the County Government of Taita Taveta and establish wildlife conservation areas to enable them to tap into the growing tourism industry.
Mr Kavu expressed Kenya's appreciation to the global community for the importance being given to wildlife conservation given the value to an economy like Kenya's. He said Kenyans were eagerly looking forward to the outcome of the London conference.
Taita Taveta County Governor Mr John Mruttu recently announced that his county had identified a 10,000 acres piece of land in the Bachuma area that they would like to put under wildlife conservation. KWS has promised to give such county governments all the technical support required to make this a reality.
This year's Tsavo census has been held at a time when the world is concerned about wildlife population trends against the backdrop of climate change, declining ecosystems, environmental and development issues.
A total of 15 aircraft were used in the survey that included five from KWS and 10 from conservation partners namely: DSWT (4), Tsavo Trust (1), Masai Wilderness Conservation Trust - MWCT (1), Save The Elephants -STE - (1), William Craig (1), Peter Zennetti (1) and Rod Evans (1).
The 15 aircraft with GPS technology comprehensively covered 48,656 square kilometers of the ecosystem. Other animals counted besides elephants were zebra, buffalo, giraffe, wild dogs, rhino, eland and lion as well as large birds such as ostrich.
The census participants numbering 130 were drawn from a multiplicity of disciplines: pilots, ecologists, conservation managers, aircraft technicians, GIS experts, data loggers, data analysts, security officials, radio operators, drivers, procurement officers, accountants, conservation education officers, workshop managers, community wildlife officers, aerial census experts (Marwell Wildlife), database officers, communication experts, etc.
Since this was a trans-boundary census, the Republic of Tanzania was represented by officials from Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI).
The census is part of a global elephant monitoring system, a directive from the 173-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The results form the basis of wildlife trade related decisions on ivory trade.
The census was co-funded by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), African Elephant Fund (AEF), David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE).