Kenya: Elephant count records steady rise in numbers
November 2013, Volume 11-5&6

Provisional results for the just-ended joint Kenya -Tanzania census for elephants and other large mammals in Amboseli ecosystem shows a remarkable recovery from massive deaths occasioned by the devastating drought between 2008 and 2010. See Elephant count records steady rise in numbers.

A total of 1193 elephants were counted this year compared to a similar dry season in October 2010 count of 1065, a 12 per cent increase. In April this year, the wet season count found 1930 elephants compared to 1420 in April 2010, a 35 per cent increase. Final results of the one-week census, which ended at the weekend, will be released in about three months. This dry season count marked the fourth joint such exercise between Kenyan and Tanzanian wildlife authorities since 2010 when the collaboration started. Both dry and wet season counts have shown that the ecosystem’s elephant population is stable and growing.

KWS Director Mr William Kiprono, who presided over the census closing ceremony, said: “Amboseli is one of our success stories and we owe it to the local community, which has warded off possible poachers.” The Ksh12 million-census was collaboration between the two countries and their agencies; the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Wildlife Division of Tanzania (WD) Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA). The bulk of the funding for the census was provided by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which also facilitated the cross-border work.

The exercise was also supported by other conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) notably Amboseli Trust for Elephants, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Marwell Wildlife, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, private sponsors and members of the local community. The aerial census sought to establish the landscape’s wildlife population abundance, trends and distribution. The results are expected to enhance knowledge on the relation between wildlife, habitat and human impacts while at the same fostering cross-border collaboration on wildlife monitoring and management between the two East African countries.

Ms Fiesta Warinwa, AWF Country Director, said plans were underway for similar cross-border counts in Serengeti/Maasai Mara and Tsavo/Mkomazi. She praised the local community of the Amboseli and West Kilimanjaro Ecosystem for warding off poachers but noted that the greatest challenge in Amboseli was loss of space for wildlife. Habitat fragmentation and land conversion as a result of land sub-division have become the biggest threats to wildlife. These were followed by habitat degradation especially through charcoal burning and draining of wetlands for agriculture.

Dr. Maurus Msuha, a Principal Research Officer, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) said human population increase and adverse effects of climate change were also becoming key threats to the ecosystem. Mr Lekishon Kenana, a Kenya Wildlife Service Senior Scientist, said data collected had been crucial in mapping out wildlife dispersal areas and migratory corridors.
“For us to have a win-win situation is, let’s plan for wildlife, and we plan for people as well. There is some space that is not useful for wildlife, we can do developments there. And in the real critical areas, that are important for wildlife, we should preserve.” he said.

The count comes after a similar wet count done earlier in April this year. It is the practice of Kenya Wildlife Service and Tanzania wildlife authorities to conduct both a wet and a dry aerial census every three years in the Amboseli West Kilimanjaro and Magadi Natron cross border Landscape.
The exercise seeks to safeguard the vast ecosystem that is threatened by human influence that includes pastoral activities, crop farming and proliferation of charcoal burning. This in a huge way affects wildlife dispersal and a huge concern to the future of the area for wildlife conservation. The information gathered from the census will be also used for planning and preparing park & conservation areas management for possible wildlife security and human-wildlife conflict eventualities in any ecosystem. In addition, wildlife census information is also used to advise communities on areas that sustain high number of wildlife species and are potential sites for establishment of community conservancies and ecotourism projects.

The operational base for the census was at Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli National Park and the data collected included large mammal counts as well as observations on habitat conditions, water distribution, livestock numbers, human settlement patterns, illegal activities, and other attributes associated with land use changes in the ecosystem.

The Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro and Magadi -Natron cross- border landscape comprise various ecologically important areas in Kenya and Tanzania. The census covered 25,623 km2 including 9,214 km2 of the Amboseli area, 6348 km2 of the Namanga-Magadi areas in south-western Kenya and 3,013 km2 of the West Kilimanjaro and 7,047 km2 of the Natron areas in North Tanzania.

From the last survey report, the elephant population in the area has been relatively stable, with 1,087 individuals counted in the year 2000; 1,090 in 2002 and 967 in 2007 compared to the year 2010 population of 1,266. In the April 2013 census the elephant population was 1930 in the survey area.

There was a dramatic decline in the number of large herbivore species between the years 2007 and 2010 due to the prolonged drought of 2007-2009: wildebeest declined by about 83 per cent from 18,538 to 3,098; zebras declined by about 71 per cent from 15,328 to 4,432; and buffalos declined by about 61per cent from 588 to 231 in the Amboseli area. However, there was noticeable population recovery for several species as revealed by the April count. There was a general increase in the number of large herbivores between the years 2010 and 2013. v
Elephant population increased from 1420 to 1,930 while elephant carcass ratio declined from 3.7% to 1.8%. Wildebeest increased by over 100% from 7,240 to 14,728. Similarly, zebra numbers more than doubled from 13,740 to 29,867 while buffalo population increased by about 72% from 334 to 575. These populations’ increases can be attributed largely to the recovery of the populations after the severe drought experienced in the area between 2007 and 2009 and to a lesser extent the increase in survey area more specifically for elephants.

Author: Kevin Wafula