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Elephant population in upward trend in Tsavo/Mkomazi ecosystem

Date Published: 14 Feb, 2011
Elephant population in upward trend in Tsavo/Mkomazi ecosystem

KWS fixed wing is ready for takeoff with elephant watching next to the air strip

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. Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng'etich confirmed that this new figure represents a modest 2 percent increase compared to 4 percent in the previous census. "The elephant is Kenya's flag-ship species and so its distribution and condition is a good indicator of the status of our wildlife,"  Mr Kipng'etich said while releasing the results at tallying centre at Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge. 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 during the census briefing, 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.”   “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, the KWS Director said, KWS had committed Sh10 million to scooping of artificial watering pans within the Tsavo national parks ahead of the long rains in April. The research programme has also been enhanced through satellite tracking of elephant movements in and out of national parks. Further, more funds have been allocated to behavioural studies of elephants.Additionally, KWS is also implementing a wide-ranging force modernisation programme to strengthen the wildlife fighting force.
Recently, after a nationwide recruitment exercise, 500 recruits reported to the KWS Manyani Field Training School for a six-month paramilitary training.

The six-day total aerial census for elephants and large mammals was co-funded by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), , the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (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.The results help policy makers and park management make sound decisions on resource allocation for security operations and conflict management.

The census participants were drawn from KWS, IFAW, other Kenyan institutions and NGOs, and representatives from Tanzania, Southern Sudan and Uganda, and volunteers.
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 settlements, fresh farms, charcoal burning, logging and cattle bomas .

The census found seven fresh carcasses, 41 recent, 295 old and 191 very old carcasses ones The Sh20 million census that started last Sunday and ended today covered Mkomazi in Tanzania, Tsavo West, Tsavo East, Chyullu Hills national parks, South Kitui National Reserve as well as the outlaying areas of Taita ranches and  and Mackinnon area in Kwale. Tsavo ecoystem censuses have been conducted every three years since 2002. Censuses are a requirement of the CITES elephant monitoring programme. 

Background Information

Tsavo is the largest protected area (four per cent of Kenya's landmass) and hosts the highest number of Kenya's estimated 35,000 elephants.

At 46,000 km², the combined Tsavo/Mkomazi ecosystem hosts the largest elephant population in Kenya.  East and West National Parks) alone occupy an area of about 21,000 km² with the remaining area being occupied by private ranches, wildlife sanctuaries, sisal plantations and farming settlements.

The ecosystem covers Tsavo East , Tsavo West, Chyullu Hills, Shimba Hills and the surrounding ranches and stretches to Mkomazi National Park  in North-eastern Tanzania. It is bordered by Mt. Kilimanjaro, Pare Mountains and parts of Usambara ranges to the Southwest.

The Tsavo/Mkomazi ecosystem is one of the 45 Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE ) sites in Africa and four in Kenya. Other MIKE sites in Kenya are Meru, Samburu-Laikipia and Mt Elgon which crosses into Uganda.

MIKE is an elephant range states global elephant monitoring programme authorized by a resolution of the 10th Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1997.

It is a site-based system to monitor elephant population trends and the illegal killing of elephants and operates in 29 African and 13 Asian elephant range states.

The Tsavo/Mkomazi elephant population faces various threats, including livestock incursions, poaching for ivory, encroachment and habitat destruction, climate change and drought as well as human elephant conflict.

In 1967, there was an estimated population of 35,000 elephants ranging within the ecosystem. Between 1970 and 1971, there was a severe drought and 5,900 elephants were recorded dead. By 1980, the Tsavo elephant population had been drastically reduced by poaching for ivory to about 12,000 and to only 5,363 elephants in 1988. There has been a marked increase in the number of elephants since 1991 up to the present with 6,763 elephants counted in the ecosystem in 1991, 7,371 in 1994, 8,068 in 1999 and 9,284 in 2002. From the 2005 count, it was concluded that Tsavo elephant population was recovering from intensive poaching for commercial ivory trade that reduced the numbers from over 35,000 in 1974 to just over 5,000 in 1988.

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