Determining Elephant Populations in Tsavo
Conservationists were ambivalent today following a five-day aerial census that indicates that elephants are on the decline in Kenya’s flagship Tsavo National Park. Preliminary results indicate the number of elephants as 11,076 – down from 12,573 in 2011 and 11,733 in 2008. The census is conducted every three years. Previous results indicate an oscillation in results as follows: 1999 (9,447 elephants), 2002 (9,284), 2005 (11,742), 2008 (11,733), 2011 (12, 573), and 2014 (11,076).
The decline could be attributed to two main factors. On the one hand a cyclic self-regulated and ecological pattern that saw a deep in 2002, 2008 and now 2014, followed by inclines as witnessed in the other census years. Such cycles are caused by a wide range of attributes including drought, length of inter-calving intervals and sex ratios of breeding individuals. On the other hand, the last three years has seen a major poaching menace in the Tsavos that could have contributed to the toll on its elephant population. Even worse is that poachers are now targeting not just mature elephants or the matriarchs in a herd with grown tusks, but entire families including infants. This is bound to result in a decline on populations by affecting population recruitment. Poachers have also taken to poaching after night-fall, which further complicates the situation.
“The census is integral to the conservation and management of elephants,” said James Isiche, IFAW East Africa Regional Director. “But the real challenges facing them remain poaching and land-use changes. It is our responsibility to continuously monitor elephant populations, trends and distribution if we are to enhance their protection.”
“Kenya needs to redouble her efforts to contain the poaching menace which remains a dire threat to elephants in Tsavo and across the country. IFAW has thus pledged US$20,000 support for provision of night vision goggles to Tsavo rangers on patrol to assist in sensing and tracking poachers even after dark,” he added. In addition IFAW sponsored local communities that live between Tsavo East and Tsavo West to sensitization workshops that has resulted in the setting aside of 10,000 acres of Bachuma corridor to enable elephants and wildlife migrate safely whilst presenting an opportunity for tourism revenue to the community.
The Tsavo ecosystem is critical in elephant management and conservation as it is home to Kenya’s largest elephant population and covers approximately four per cent of Kenya’s land mass. It is one of the world’s largest national parks. The number of elephants in any ecosystem is an indicator of the status of wildlife hence the importance of this exercise.
Areas that were covered in the census included Mkomazi in Tanzania; Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks, South Kitui National Reserve, Taita ranches and Mackinnon area in Kwale.
The labour-intensive exercise involved over 120 participants and was co-funded by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), IFAW (www.ifaw.org), David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), African Elephant Fund, Save the Elephants and Tsavo Trust. IFAW’s contribution included aircraft and vehicle fuel, lubricants, logistical and administrative support.
In addition to poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict are seen as the greatest problems facing elephant populations. To mitigate these IFAW undertakes various interventions including training law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention and partnering with conservationists and communities to conserve environments, monitor elephant migratory routes and secure space for elephants.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter