Elephant Population on Rise in Kenya

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Elephant population in the expansive Tsavo/Mkomazi conservatory has increased to 11,696 from 10,397 in the last three years.

The new figure from this year's census represents a 4.1 per cent growth rate, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service Director, Dr Julius Kipng'etich.

The larger Tsavo National Park is the largest protected area, being four per cent of Kenya's land mass. It hosts the highest number of Kenya's elephants, estimated at 30,000.

"The elephant is Kenya's flagship species and so its distribution and condition is a good indicator of the status of our wildlife," Dr Kipng'etich said.

During the census, officials also traced 68 elephant carcasses, 64 of which had earlier been seen by the KWS officials on routine security operations.

The remaining four carcasses were discovered during the exercise. They had their tusks intact. Three were found to have died from natural causes while one had died of old age.

Wildlife protection

According to Mr Paul Udoto, of corporate communications at the KWS, the census team identified a number of challenges facing the country's wildlife protection and management plans.

These include makeshift houses built on the park boundaries and livestock encroachment into the game sanctuaries.

Poaching still remains a menace especially in South Kitui and Galana where the team came across many snares.

To address this last problem, KWS has sent a team to these two areas to dismantle the snares.

The agency has also ordered immediate demolition of manyattas and other structures illegally built in the game parks, Mr Udoto said.

He added that an 80 km fence is being erected between Jipe and Rombo, with 20 km of the stretch already completed. The census is part of a global elephant monitoring system. It is a regulation imposed by the 173-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The results form the basis of decisions and policies on ivory trade as well as helping conservationists plan park management and security operations.

The June 2007 CITES conference in The Hague imposed a nine-year freeze on ivory trade.

This came in the wake of a one-off sale of 60 tonnes of government owned stocks by four Southern African states that include Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa to Japan.

Illicit trade

The census by 90 KWS personnel also covered Galana, Kulalu, Dokota and Taita ranches. Some sections of Kwale District were covered in the exercise.

The results were tallied at the Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge in the Tsavo West National Park, some 280 km south-west of Nairobi.

The census is conducted every three years since elephants give birth every four years.

From the 2005 count, it was concluded that Tsavo elephant population was recovering from intensive poaching.

The vice had fuelled illicit trade in ivory that reduced the elephant population from over 35,000 in 1974 to just over 5,000 in 1988.

The four-day exercise cost over Sh10 million and involved 11 light aircraft .