Tracking Tsavo elephants by satellite collars to help reduce conflict and beef up security operations

Satellite collar for Tsavo elephant © IFAW/D. Willetts
Monday, 19 March, 2012
Tsavo, Kenya

In an epic operation starting today, ten elephants in Tsavo East and West National Parks will be collared using satellite technology. The collared elephants, both male and female, will assist in mapping out the migratory corridors in the Parks and the buffer zones within the 43,000 square kilometres ecosystem. This will effectively equip the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to design intervention measures for human-elephant conflict mitigation as well as mount security operations for the pachyderms.

The collared elephants’ movements will be closely monitored for close to 20 months, as long as they retain the collars. The elephants, which will be collared by research scientists from KWS and the International Fund for Animal welfare (IFAW - in a week-long exercise, are spread out in different sites within the ecosystem. In addition to providing an on-site technical team, IFAW has supplied the collars, satellite image receivers and software, and fuel for the helicopter, spotter plane and vehicles.

Five elephants were collared last year by the same team; two of the elephants have since died whilst the movement of the remaining three continues to be monitored. Before last year, the last collaring in Tsavo was done in 1972 using conventional collars that required manual tracking with radio transmitters.

Commenting at the beginning of the exercise, IFAW Eastern Africa Regional Director, James Isiche stressed the need for Kenya to embrace cutting-edge technology in the management of its elephant population. “Cases of conflict, particularly around Tsavo, have risen sharply over the years. By monitoring movements of the collared elephants, we anticipate that incidences of death, injury and damage to crops and property arising from conflict with elephants will be minimised by rapid deployment of rangers to those areas.  
“In addition, given the rising elephant poaching in Kenya, we envisage that by monitoring them, more efficient and effective anti-poaching and law enforcement operations will be conducted by Tsavo’s management,” said Isiche. 

The Tsavo ecosystem is critical for elephant conservation as it is home to the largest population of elephants and covers approximately four per cent of Kenya’s landmass. An aerial census conducted last year established 12,573 elephants, a 2% increase from 11,696 in 2008.

Common challenges facing Tsavo’s management are poaching for ivory, human-elephant conflict, human encroachment and habitat destruction, livestock incursions into the Parks, and the adverse effects of climate change such as severe droughts. 

Since 2005, IFAW has partnered with KWS in Tsavo to enhance management operations in anti-poaching and law enforcement efforts, human-wildlife conflict mitigation and resolution, research, park infrastructural support, community conservation initiatives and education.

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 Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.



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