IFAW Africa: Tsavo West National Park Update - Summer 2009

Summer 2009 – Stories from Tsavo West National Park

These stories were submitted by our team on the ground in Africa, working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service, our partner in Tsavo West National Park. For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare's work in Tsavo, please visit www.ifaw.org/kenya

Rhino-transloc,-taking-pulse,N.-Grosse-Woodley_DSC7938 Rhino and buffalo translocation: In the 1960s, Tsavo hosted the largest black rhino
population in the country – between 12,000 and 15,000. During the 1970s and
1980s, however, poaching was rife and Somali bandits ran riot throughout the 21,000
square kilometer Tsavo
National Park
, finally
withdrawing once they had wiped out all but a handful of rhinos.

As an emergency measure to save the remaining rhinos, the
Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary was established in 1985. It started with three female
black rhinos and a fenced-in area of 3 square kilometers. Over the years, more
rhinos were relocated and brought into the safety of the sanctuary.

Today, after gradual expansion to its current area of 91
square kilometers, the sanctuary is home to about 70 rhinos and hundreds of
buffalo.

The Rhino Sanctuary is secured by an electric fence which
stops animals from ranging outside in search of food, and vice versa. With the
third consecutive rainy season failing in 2009, animals within the sanctuary
started showing signs of malnutrition. Competition for food has become too
stiff and little fodder was available due to a severe drought that has hit most
parts of Kenya.

Wildlife, mainly buffalos and rhinos, suffered, stopped breeding
and would have faced starvation, if nothing was done. In mid June 2009, the Kenya
Wildlife Service capture team drove 229 buffalos out of the sanctuary by
pulling down a section of the electric fence and chasing family herds out by
helicopter and light aircraft. Once the animals were out, the fence was quickly
re-erected. Soon after, four rhinos were also moved from the sanctuary into the
IPZ (Intensive Protection Zone) of Tsavo park. One rhino has since broken back
into the sanctuary. Competition for food is much less now thanks to the reduced
numbers of buffalos within the confines of the sanctuary.

Curio-sellers-in-new-kiosk-funded-by-IFAW,-Nana-Grosse-Woodl Curio dealers: These curio dealers used to sit in the shade of an old tree
next to the main entrance gate to Tsavo
West National
Park
, as they do at almost all the other Kenya
Wildlife Service park gates. Here they carved, marketed and sold their wares
without any facilities for professional production, display or sales.

IFAW supported the construction of a new building that will
house the curio dealers and provide them with space for production and sales.

The objective was to:

  1. Support
    the local curio industry in an eco-friendly and sustainable way.
  2. Organize
    the association to benefit all members, not just a few.
  3. Ensure
    that the local curio industry replants the trees they use for production,
    therefore ensuring an environmentally friendly and responsible product.
  4. Change
    production methods so the products can be marketed with a green label.

1-of-5-info-boards-funded-by-IFAW,-KWS-Ed-Officer-with-s-(3) Information boards: Information boards supported by IFAW have been well-received
by students and other park visitors. This one at the Visitor Information Centre
in Tsavo West, for example, clearly portrays the Mzima Springs process, and how
water affects people and wildlife. Students are more attracted to these visual
aids than to dry lectures so they pay more attention and grasp the associations
and connections much better. In Tsavo, it is crucial for the communities to
understand that Mzima Springs is not only a water source for wild animals – while
“inaccessible” as such to neighboring communities -- but is also the main fresh
water supply for Kenya’s
human population living in and around the coastal city of Mombasa. The reason the Kenya Wildlife
Service is strict in protecting this freshwater spring becomes clear to every
student, as does the fact that most local communities do benefit from Mzima --
contrary to general belief -- by supplying water to rivers that are outlets
from Mzima. The signboards help improve the relationship between the
neighboring communities and the parks and also explain the importance of
conserving water.

Community-education,-VIC,-info-material-sponsored-by-IFA-(2) Community education: Getting to the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) is a major
highlight for many local school children. They don’t often get the chance to see
wildlife within the Park and get to know the different animal species on safe
grounds. Their experience with wildlife may be limited to elephants raiding
their small-scale farms at home or buffalos threatening them on daily walks to
school. In these circumstances, a visit to the VIC (although in dire need of
renovation) is often the only way for school children to learn about their own
national heritage. It is important for youth to understand that elephants are
not simply the ‘monsters’ destroying that destroy the only crop in their family’s
farm, but also have tight relationships within their herds and a mental and
physical development similar to human’s. Coming to the VIC enables the
community to understand the connection between their own welfare and the
importance of conserving wildlife. IFAW helps Tsavo National Park
provide educational opportunities to people in the local communities.

Buffalo-carcass,--car-donated-by-IFAW,-N.-Grosse-Woodley_015 Drought: Due to a prolonged drought, Tsavo has lost more than 150
hippos and a multitude of other grazers, mainly buffalo and zebra. Giraffes,
who are dependant on a varied diet, can only feed on acacia leaves for now.

The drought is a totally natural die off and occurs in
cycles of every 10 to15 years. It is a sad but expected situation.

By July 2009, Tsavo had experienced the third consecutive
failing rainy season. This meant that seasonal dispersal among the animals
could not take place. That led to a high and ongoing density of wildlife around
permanent water sources which depleted the food reserves. The impact continues to
be devastating.

Some of the droughts in the past had detrimental effects:

  • 1960-91
    – 300 black rhino died
  • 1970-71
    – 6,000 elephants died
  • 1972-75
    – 3,000 elephants died

Considering that the Tsavo Conservation Area (43,000Km2)
is deemed large enough to allow these natural cycles to take place without
irreversible consequences, the Parks’ management has a policy of "hands
off" management. However, there are plans to develop artificial water
systems, which can be activated in future times like this in order to support
the dispersal of the animals.

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For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare's work in Tsavo, please visit www.ifaw.org/kenya

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