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Taita Taveta Governor to preside over Tsavo aerial census of elephants

Date Published: 03 Feb, 2014
Taita Taveta Governor to preside over Tsavo aerial census of elephants

Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu will on Tuesday (February 4, 2014) preside over the official flag off of the Kenya Wildlife Service Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem aerial census of elephants and other wildlife.  The operation base for the dry season 2014 census is Sarova Salt Lick Lodge. 

The trans-boundary Kenya-Tanzania exercise costing about Ksh22 million has been supported by various stakeholders including Kenya Wildlife Service, (KWS) David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and  the African Elephant Fund (AEF).A number of pilots and aircraft have been volunteered by partner organizations to join the exercise conducted every three years.  A total of 120 specialised personnel including observers, GIS support staff, security, aircraft technicians, etc are involved in the five-day exercise. 

Previous aerial census in 2011 in the same area showed that the elephant population stood at 12,572 up from 11,696 recorded in the last census in 2008.The elephant is Kenya's flag-ship species and so its distribution and condition is a good indicator of the status of our wildlife. The results help policy makers and park management make sound decisions on resource allocation for security operations and conflict management.

The Tsavo census usually covers 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 Mackinnon area in Kwale.


Aerial census of large mammals in Tsavo ecosystem have been carried out since the 1960’s. These counts have provided vital information to policy makers and park managers, facilitating sound management of elephants in the ecosystem. The decline of poaching and increase of elephant population have resulted in other management and conservation challenges.

The 2014 dry season census aims at monitoring of elephants and other large mammals in Tsavo ecosystem by closely and accurately monitoring the status and trends. The specific objectives include


  1. 1To establish the current elephant and other large mammals population size and distribution and compare these results with the results of past aerial counts.
  2. To understand the distribution of elephants and other large mammals in relation to distribution of water sources.
  3. To map human activities inside and outside the protected areas (e.g. logging, settlements, farming, and charcoal burning).
  4. To document the distribution and numbers of livestock in relation to elephants and other large mammals in the ecosystem.
  5.  Interpret the information obtained and deduce sound management decisions for the continued existence of wildlife in this fragile ecosystem.

In a nutshell, the census will be 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.Tsavo ecoystem censuses have been conducted every three years since 2002.

 Censuses are a requirement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) elephant monitoring programme.

 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.

 The fluctuation of Tsavo’s elephant populations over the decades has had significant impacts on the ecology of the ecosystem.

 In 1967, the ecosystem had some 35,000 elephants while about 5,400 individuals were left in 1988. Heavy armed poaching and severe drought were responsible for this rapid decline. However since 1990s, concerted efforts by KWS and other conservation partners have seen elephant populations steadily increase to the current status. 

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


The method to be adopted during the February 2014 total aerial count for wildlife and livestock will be the same as that used in previous censuses. The count will, therefore, employ the Global Positioning System (GPS) technique with ARGIS software being used for plotting species distribution maps.

However, slight changes will be made. These include use of regular blocks instead of the irregular blocks where roads and rivers were used to demarcate the block boundary. Also sound recorders, streamers and GPS enabled cameras will be used.

Over 15 aircrafts will be used during the aerial count. Each of the aircraft will have a GPS for use in navigation, recording survey path, and waypoints. All observations will be saved in the GPS as waypoints with the geographical location referenced and will be used to produce species distribution maps. Photographs will be taken and used to count individuals in large herds. 


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