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Elephant Programme

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Elephant Programme falls under KWS Research and Planning Department and is responsible for coordinating management, research and monitoring elephants throughout the country. This include coordinating and participating in all national elephant issues, community outreach, ensuring elephant security, problem animal control and reducing conflict with people. Given the broad range of elephant related activities, the Elephant Programme works closely with members of other KWS Departments, NGOs, local people and other stakeholders.

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Elephants in the wetlands

The objective of the Programme during its initiation in 1989 was to protect the elephants from the danger of extinction that was posed by the poachers. The country's elephant population was 170,000 at independence in 1963, by 1989 when the Programme was established the population had reduced to a mere 16,000. In May 1989, Kenya along with other nations, proposed the listing of the African elephant on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In October of the same year, the Parties to the CITES voted to uplist the African elephant to Appendix I, thus banning the international trade in ivory and other elephant products. With these changes, the conditions for Kenya's elephants improved dramatically with the population rising to some 26,000 elephants by 1996. However, the June 1997 decision by the COP 10 to CITES to downlist elephants to appendix 2 in some Southern African countries to allow limited trade in ivory have stimulated poaching in Kenya's elephant ranges. Kenya's outcry is to totally stop the bloody elephant trade to help save this charismatic species!!!

Specific Objectives of the Programme


  • Ensure long-term survival or biologically and touristically important elephant population;
  • To work closely with Security Department to ensure that there is no upsurge in elephant poaching or trafficking of ivory;
  • To provide close monitoring of trends in numbers and status of elephant populations and to enable the most appropriate populations be selected of anti-poaching and conservation efforts and provide a basis for monitoring the progress of conservation initiatives;
  • To cooperate with other countries on international issues regarding elephant conservation (e.g. CITES, controlling the ivory trade, regional collaboration);
  • To find solutions to the problems confronting the conservation and management of elephants within Parks and Reserves, so that a long term viability of priority population is assured, e.g. finding solutions to the problem of elephants confinement either caused by habitat encroachment, fencing programmes, closing off of migration routes or proposed fencing by establishing corridors, translocation or through community conservation programmes;
  • To reduce the amount of injury and damage caused to human life and property by elephants through design and installation of effective elephant barriers;
  • To reconcile landuse and other conflicts between elephants and communities in areas adjoining Parks and Reserves;
  •  To contribute research of high quality to the body of international scientific knowledge.


The International Ivory Trade
Kenya will continue to support the international ban on commercial trade in ivory and will cooperate with other countries to ensure that the African elephant remains on Appendix I at the next meeting of the parties to CITES.

Poaching and Illegal Trade
KWS will increase its intelligence gathering expertise and will cooperate with neighbouring countries and with the Regional TRAFFIC Office in identifying poachers and illegal ivory dealers and in building up a database on their activities.

Monitoring Status and Trends
KWS will continue to monitor the status and trends of elephant populations. Monitoring will include aerial counts, ground counts and age structure surveys. Priority will be given to the populations that have been selected as the focus of conservation effort. Ground counts in uncensored forests and aerial counts and ground age structure surveys in areas that were heavily poached will continue to be undertaken.

Compression and Habitat Destruction in Small Enclosed Areas
Although Kenya is still reeling from the ivory poaching that devastated the country's elephant populations, KWS' policies in regard to elephant management must now look forward. If the international ivory ban stays in place, and if KWS can ensure that there is no upsurge in elephant poaching, we can assume that over the next decade elephant populations will increase. In some areas the increase in elephant numbers will eventually lead to conflict with the activities of a rapidly expanding human population. As a consequence, confined to smaller, more enclosed areas necessitating closer management.

As these Parks and Reserves become islands surrounded by cultivation, the isolated elephant populations in some of the smaller areas may need to be regulated. KWS considers the culling of elephants to be undesirable for several reasons including: ethical considerations; the disturbance that the killing of elephants would have on the survivors and the negative impact it would, in turn, have on tourism; the destabilizing effect on population dynamics. At this stage, Kenya cannot afford the negative press that would be associated with introducing a culling programme in our Parks and Reserves. Therefore, KWS has ventured into translocation as a tool to managing elephant population and will explore the feasibility of elephant contraception. 

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Prevention of Crop Damage
KWS has initiated programmes to reduce the damage caused to human life and property by elephants. Where crop damage is severe electric fences have been erected to separate human activities from access by elephants. Control shooting of elephants has continued, christened Problem Animal Control. This shooting has been directed at specific problem individuals and has been designed in such a way as not to affect their behavior.

Stimulating Tourism
As a large charismatic mammal, elephants have the potential to stimulate tourism in the Parks and Reserves that are presently under-visited. Part of the Elephant Programme strategy has been therefore to focus some elephant projects in Parks and Reserves for which KWS wants to encourage tourism.



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