Spotlight Kenya: From Tsavo to Amboseli – Bring it on!

As human population grows, pressure has been mounting on areas that are ‘unoccupied’; some of which are wildlife habitats and dispersal areas. Tsavo is no exception. Subsequently and gradually, human-wildlife conflict incidences have shot through the roof.Elephants chasing buffalo from a waterhole in Tsavo. c. IFAW/Nana Grosse-Woodley

Anyone who knows of the Tsavo ecosystem agrees that just its size can be intimidating. Denmark or the Netherlands can comfortably fit into it.

Same applies to the State of Massachusetts. At 43,000 km2, some would welcome the challenge of protecting the elephants and other wildlife in such an expansive area. Like the International Fund for Animal Welfare did six years ago. Although it is almost 1,000 km from the unstable Somalia to Tsavo, armed bandits from this country traditionally made insurgencies in search of ivory and rhino horn.

They were hardy risk-takers, well armed and trained. From over 40,000 elephants in the 70s, this population was trimmed mainly by these bandits to just above 5,000 in 1988. Rhinos fared a worse battle – 99% of their population was wiped off by then. One would think that armed poaching would be the only headache bedevilling Tsavo. Of late, non-traditional methods of poaching have notably been on the rise.

Such as use of poisoned arrows, silent yet potent and effective, by the communities living around the habitat. Tsavo is a hotchpotch of most, if not all the, challenges faced in protecting an elephant habitat, whether in Africa or Asia. With Kenya’s human population rated to be rising at one million every year and currently estimated at 40 million, it is not rocket science that the populace has to find somewhere to live, to eke a livelihood, to be buried. Africans, in general, have a deep cultural attachment to land.

Most want a portion of it to their name and to bequeath their progeny. Land issues are emotive and divisive, and many a life has been lost in tussles regardless of kith and kin. But I digress. As human population grows, pressure has been mounting on areas that are ‘unoccupied’; some of which are wildlife habitats and dispersal areas.

Tsavo is no exception. Subsequently and gradually, human-wildlife conflict incidences have shot through the roof. Into Tsavo’s pot of challenges, add communities’ reduced  economic power as well as the need to equip the wildlife guardians with the ways and means to protect Tsavo as a resource. From 2005 to 2011, IFAW, in partnership with Kenya Wildlife Service and Tsavo’s management, gave a much-needed hand to help resolve the challenges above. Presently, rangers have the vehicles and radio equipment needed for anti-poaching patrols and law enforcement efforts. The team that resolves conflict incidences can now be rapidly deployed to the hotspots and a fence to keep away elephants has been erected in an area where a farming community lives.

Various community projects that are compatible with wildlife conservation such as aloe vera farming and bee-keeping have been initiated and are ongoing, addressing the issue of livelihoods. Scientists have the equipment and means to collect data and information such as elephant movement and distribution that will help the park managers protect Tsavo. Ad infinitum. Whilst we appreciate that wildlife conservation is a long-term undertaking, IFAW, like other organisations, has limited resources.

However, our commitment in spirit and goodwill from friends and supporters abounds. We are gratified that we have left Tsavo’s management better equipped and more resourced to protect the habitat, its elephants and other wildlife as we transition into Amboseli. The Amboseli ecosystem is a haven for ecology researchers; it is every wildlife tourist or enthusiast’s dream come true owing to the ease of wildlife and landscape viewing; cultural tourists enjoy learning the ways of the Maasai community in their ancestral lands.  It has also become a land planner or wildlife conservationist’s hotspot.

Compared to Tsavo, the Amboseli ecosystem is almost eight times smaller. During the elephant poaching eras of 70s and 80s, Amboseli was mercifully spared. But in the recent past, poaching incidences have been reported and have been on the rise. Today, the elephant population stands at around 1,400, and are the longest researched elephants in the world. The area is also a haven for ornithologists and predators are also easily sighted.

Our excitement about the project, though, comes with a little trepidation and some sense of foreboding. Small as it seems, with regard to the intensity of human-wildlife conflicts, community conservation and land-use changes, Amboseli is ten-fold as radioactive compared to Tsavo.

Yet it presents another challenge that IFAW hopes to boldly take on and work into positive outcomes. Both for the elephants and for people. -- EW 

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