Amboseli Elephant Project

In 2010 IFAW launched an exciting new initiative to protect elephants in Kenya called the Amboseli Elephant Project.

The Amboseli Elephant Project focuses on three elements critical to the survival of the Amboseli ecosystem and the elephants that depend on it for survival:

  • Helping the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) better protect the core area of Amboseli National Park
  • Assisting the world-famous Amboseli Elephant Research Project with ground-breaking scientific research on elephants
  • Partnering with a community group ranch outside the park to help secure land vital to migrating elephants and local Maasai tribal people

Protecting Amboseli National Park

IFAW is helping the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) with anti-poaching patrols and other aspects of basic management in the core area of the park. Our approach is based on lessons learned from our habitat protection projects in Kenya’s Meru (2000-2005) and Tsavo (2005-2010) national parks.

Our joint efforts fit five themes: 1) law enforcement, 2) human-elephant conflict resolution, 3) basic park operations, 4) community conservation and 5) conservation education. These activities were selected from the KWS-endorsed Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan for 2008-2018. The plan is endorsed by the government of Kenya and the stakeholders of Amboseli, including the surrounding Maasai community group ranches.

Studying Amboseli Elephants

IFAW has launched a joint research study with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project on the effects of the devastating 2008-2009 drought on the lives and well being of a select group of Amboseli elephant families.

This drought, combined with poaching, killed close to 400 of 1,550 individually known and continuously tracked elephants in Amboseli. In fact, 95 percent of the experienced matriarchs died. Experienced matriarchs are leaders of their families, responsible for knowing where to find food and water, safety from threats and how to manage social networks over a 60+ year lifespan.

Our research shows that families left with inexperienced matriarchs show reduced social cohesion and may suffer from poor reproductive performance in coming years. Surviving family members appear to be in a state of social confusion.

Our project examines how rapid and unexpected loss of the oldest, most experienced individuals affects social stability, competitive ability and reproductive performance within elephant families.

Our findings will help us better understand the future of Amboseli’s elephants and elephant populations across Africa, which are threatened by ever more extreme climatic events as well as ivory poaching.

In addition to the drought study, IFAW will place satellite radio collars on six bulls and senior females in the Amboseli ecosystem to map migratory routes. The ultimate goal is to identify and establish safe elephant corridors.

Because these corridors allow access to food and water outside the park, they are lifelines for elephants during cyclical droughts. Without the corridors, starvation and mass deaths may occur, as happened in 2008-2009.

Promoting Human-Elephant Coexistence

The third pillar of IFAW’s engagement in Amboseli is a direct partnership with a community group ranch outside the park.

Amboseli National Park per se comprises only 10 percent of the elephants’ range and ecosystem. The remaining 90 percent of the land consists of Maasai community group ranches – six of them in total. Elephants range far and wide, so their survival depends on the ability of local communities to share the land with them.

Once we’ve identified critical elephant corridors, the next step is to negotiate leases with the community group ranch to set aside land as a wildlife conservancy. IFAW will then seek private-sector participation to build an eco-friendly tourist facility in the area. Eco-tourism can provide needed income for the local people while leaving the land in near-pristine condition.

This type of community-conservation partnership is a win-win situation for animals and people in the Amboseli ecosystem.