Giving the nod to Amboseli's elephants to define their landscape space needs
The backdrop couldn’t have been more apt. The vast savannah landscape of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, is home to about 1,400 elephants. But, far from remaining rooted to the spot – the elephants wander miles and miles, to Tanzania in the south and as far as Tsavo in the east, crossing community lands in the process and not always earning themselves first prize in the popularity stakes.
You see, it’s all about space.
On 23rd May 2013 we had all gathered to mark a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing between the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and The School of Field Studies based in Amboseli. The colourful ceremony heralded the commencement of a project that is anchored on asking elephants their space needs.
Using satellite GPS collars, six of which were deployed earlier in the year, and 12 more to be fitted by March 2014, the collared elephants will provide real-time information on their temporal and spatial movements over the next three years.
For openers, I set the mood by stating that space at Amboseli – is the first and last issue; how it might be best shared between human and conservation interests to maintain the integrity of the world famous landscape that is currently threatened by man induced habitat fragmentation, encroachment, loss and degradation.
Professor Moses Makonjio Okello, senior director of The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies in Kenya and Tanzania, and lead scientist on the project, explained the main study questions that he will ask the elephants: “How many homes do you have in the landscape?
What is the route of choice between these homes and why? What threats do you face at these critical homes and routes? How many families (sub-populations) are you in the landscape?
How can humans help you? And finally how can you help humans with eco-tourism enterprises so that their livelihoods are helped too?”
And for emphasis on the last question, Daniel Leturesh, Chairman of the expansive Maasai Ol’gulului Group Ranch that surrounds Amboseli Park, observed that revenue sharing and benefits, be it between the government and the community, private entrepreneurs, or with NGOs, is the key to securing the “space” under discussion.
Paul Ntiati, the Deputy Governor of Kajiado County, within which Amboseli falls, captured the audience’s response when he stated: “Let us see what the elephants say and then we implement their (the elephants’) recommendations”.
The guest of honour to the event, Kenya’s Director General of National Environment Management Authority, Professor Geoffrey Wahungu was emphatic that the stakeholders of Amboseli had the opportunity to showcase Amboseli as the model for conservation and development and urged them to become the first in Kenya to deliver a sub-county management plan – by gazetting the Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan (AEMP); for which he had issued a one year moratorium in February 2013 halting new developments that were against the Plan.
He revealed that he was going to take a keen interest on the Amboseli ecosystem having worked in the area in the past and that for him “it is more of a personal pursuit than an institutional drive’”
In concluding the meeting, the Regional Director for IFAW, James Isiche, announced IFAW’s support of US$35,000 towards the gazettement of the AEMP reminding the audience that “change is inevitable so we need to foresee it and manage it otherwise it will manage us”. The AEMP is a proactive tool to manage change in the ecosystem and landscape.
The third partner in this elephant study is the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and they were represented by Assistant Director Ann Kahihia and Elephant Programme Coordinator, Dr. Shadrack Ngene, who stated that the SFS - IFAW - KWS initiative fits into Kenya’s overall elephant strategy and heralded NEMA for the moratorium and opportunity to gazette the AEMP.
The event provided an opportunity for all the players who can make a difference in the ecosystem, the national government through KWS and NEMA, the county government through the Deputy Governor, the land-owners through the Chairman and Coordinator of the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust – the unit that will oversee the implementation of the AEMP - and the private sector represented by IFAW, to renew their commitment towards making Amboseli a safe and viable habitat for elephants by pursuing policies that will enhance the well-being of both animals and people.
Exciting times lie ahead for Amboseli – its elephants and the communities who share this precious space with them.