IFAW Among the Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya
This report was filed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Elephants Program Communications Officer, Colleen Cullen.
The soil is tinged pink, and the seemingly scarce trees, tinged with life. Grasses perk, vivid and lively, short and important. Loud, crayon-colored birds land on dull, dusty beasts. Elephants shrink in the landscape, vulnerable even amid their own element. Kilimanjaro peaks from the horizon, clear and bold. – Where am I? Amboseli National Park, Kenya, home to some of the world’s most important elephant populations.
The elephants of Amboseli NP are renowned all over the country – all over the world. I had always found it hard to believe when I heard people say that there are elephants ‘everywhere’ for one to see within the Park gates. But, in only a few minutes in the Park, I knew their words to be true. Elephants are indeed everywhere!
In terms of elephant conservation, IFAW is on the front lines, and it
is only fitting that we work on securing the populations of Amboseli.
We have been working with Amboseli Trust for Elephants, or the Amboseli
Elephant Research Project (AERP), for many years now, and I was
thrilled to be meeting the team for the first time in person. In fact,
although I had been advised she would not be present, acclaimed
elephant expert Dr. Cynthia Moss is the head of the program. She has
been working in Amboseli for over 25 years, and is respected immensely
for her studies on elephant behavior, specifically their emotional
Her team turned out to be just as impressive. The women – yes, all
women – that work alongside Cynthia have been with her for
approximately twenty years each now (Katito, 15 years) themselves, and
the three have truly dedicated themselves to learning about this
beguiling species. Soila Sayielel, Norah Njiraini and Katito Sayielel
know every single elephant in the Park by name besides the calves which
are under three years. Each and every one of the 1500 resident
elephants! This was proven to me while driving through the Park with
Norah, as she recalled name after name with each elephant we saw. Every
family is given a different letter, and all of the members of that
group are named accordingly. Of course, as the end of the alphabet was
reached, the double letters began, and so on.
AERP makes the rounds each day to identify all possible elephants, and
are often driving around Park grounds six plus hours per day. In
addition to identification, the team is also constantly observing the
interactions, land-use patterns, group sizes, activities, and more.
Their findings are published in research journals, books and articles
across the globe. Studies of this team account for much of the current
understanding of elephants and their behavior.
When pressing Norah on the recent news regarding elephant spearing in
the Park, she was visibly emotional. In a blog posted on Richard
Leakey’s website in March, AERP reported the spearing of a totaled 14
elephants. While all are recognized as dead by the team, only a few of
the bodies were recovered, but the last time those unaccounted for were
seen, they had spearing wounds. AERP is confident that their wounds
The AERP team confirms that the local Maasai community is directly
responsible for the deaths, as they have actually admitted so. But,
indirectly, the deaths are attributed to the Maasais seeking to resolve
the escalating human-elephant conflict with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
According to AERP, this community which borders the Park, has been
experiencing rife conflict including deaths of and injuries to
community members, loss of livestock and crop-raiding, which in turn
affects livelihoods, for some time now.
According to Amboseli Park’s Senior Warden, Bakari Mwangumi, the
protected area faces “enormous challenges”, and the relationship with
local communities is at the top of that list. As for the recent
spearings, Mwangumi says that he does not want to blow the situation
out of proportion but that they have held meetings with the communities
to get to long-lasting solutions for the conflict.
IFAW remains concerned for the fate of one of the world’s most important elephant populations.