The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and various stakeholders say they have finalized plans to carry out aerial census of elephants in the expansive Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem starting on Tuesday.
KWS said Monday the results of the Feb. 4-10 exercise will help the wildlife officials establish the current elephant and other large mammals population size and distribution and compare these results with the results of past aerial counts.
"Volunteer and KWS pilots as well as other census officials have started arriving at the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge, which is operation base for the dry season 2014," KWS Corporate Affairs Manager Paul Udoto said.
Udoto said a number of pilots and aircraft have been volunteered by partner organizations to join the exercise conducted every three years.
"A total of 120 specialized personnel including observers, GIS support staff, security, aircraft technicians, etc are involved in the five-day exercise," Udoto added.
He said the census will be aimed at establishing the populations, trends and distribution of elephants as well as map out human activities inside and outside the protected areas.
The trans-boundary Kenya-Tanzania exercise with the slogan "Trumpet and Be Counted" is costing about 255,000 U.S. dollars and is part of the Kenya @50 celebrations which have been marked since Dec. 12 last year.
The census has been supported by various stakeholders including KWS, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and the African Elephant Fund (AEF). "The results help policy makers and park management make sound decisions on resource allocation for security operations and conflict management," he said.
Tsavo ecoystem censuses have been conducted every three years since 2002. Censuses are a requirement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) elephant monitoring program.
The Tsavo census usually covers Mkomazi in Tanzania, Tsavo West, Tsavo East, Chyullu Hills national parks, South Kitui National Reserve as well as the outlaying areas of Taita ranches and Mackinnon area in Kwale. The 2014 dry season census aims at monitoring of elephants and other large mammals in Tsavo ecosystem by closely and accurately monitoring the status and trends. The objective of the six-day exercise is to understand the distribution of elephants and other large mammals in relation to distribution of water sources.
It also aims at mapping human activities inside and outside the protected areas (such as logging, settlements, farming, and charcoal burning).
The Tsavo ecosystem is critical for elephant conservation as it is home to the largest population of elephants and covers approximately four per cent of Kenya's landmass.
The fluctuation of Tsavo's elephant populations over the decades has had significant impacts on the ecology of the ecosystem.
In 1967, the ecosystem had some 35,000 elephants while about 5, 400 individuals were left in 1988. Heavy armed poaching and severe drought were responsible for this rapid decline.
However since the 1990s, concerted efforts by KWS and other conservation partners have seen elephant populations steadily increase to the current status.