Elephant Populations on Upward Trend in Tsavo-Mkomazi Ecosystem

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Tsavo, Kenya
Preliminary results from the just-concluded aerial census in Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem show that the elephant population now stands at 12,572, up from 11,696 recorded in the last census in 2008.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director, Julius Kipng'etich, confirmed that this new figure represents a 2 per cent increase compared to 4 per cent in the previous census. Seven fresh, 41 recent and 295 old carcasses were found with the deaths likely to have occurred in the last two years.

"The elephant is Kenya's flag-ship species, and so its distribution and condition is a good indicator of the status of our wildlife," Kipng'etich said.

He attributed the decline in growth rate to the severe drought Kenya suffered in 2009, which claimed hundreds of young and aged elephants.

“The new numbers might also reflect the increased demand for ivory, and the subsequent rise in poaching,” added Kipng’etich.

Speaking at the end of the exercise, James Isiche, IFAW E.A. Regional Director said elephant populations in Tsavo and Kenya at large are still under siege.

“Threats such as destruction of and encroachment on habitat, conflict and poaching are on the rise. There is need for a renewed commitment by both wildlife and supporting agencies in ensuring that the gains we have had since the 1989 ban on international ivory trade and the concerted efforts with regards to law enforcement are not reversed,” commented Isiche.

While there is urgency in curbing poaching, emerging challenges such as encroachment by humans on elephant habitat necessitate a land-use policy, its implementation and enforcement if we hope to have elephants in future,” said Isiche.

As precautionary measures to address drought, Kipng’etich said KWS had committed funds to scoop artificial watering pans within Tsavo Parks ahead of the long rains in April. In addition, the organisation is strengthening its security force by recruiting more wildlife rangers.

The six-day total aerial census was co-funded by the KWS and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat and other stakeholders. The results help policy makers and park management make sound decisions on resource allocation for security operations and conflict management.

The exercise conducted by over 100 participants drawn from four countries was aimed at establishing the populations, trends and distribution of elephants as well as map out human activities inside and outside the protected areas.

Nine aircraft with GPS technology were used to cover of the 46,437 square kilometres area. Other animals counted besides elephants in the Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem were buffalo, giraffe, wild dogs, rhino, eland and lion as well as large birds such as ostrich. Illegal activities recorded during the count included human settlements, farms, charcoal burning, logging and cattle bomas.

The census participants were drawn from KWS, IFAW, other Kenyan institutions and NGOs, and representatives from Tanzania, Southern Sudan and Uganda, and volunteers.

Tsavo ecosystem censuses have been conducted every three years since 2002.

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