Initial count from Amboseli is good news for elephants

The joint Kenyan Tanzanian wildlife survey of the Amboseli region offers good news for elephant lovers as numbers appears to have surged following large-scale deaths from droughts during the 2008 and 2010 period. The week-long aerial survey found 1,193 elephants – a rise of 12% on a similar period in 2010.

The survey last week concentrated on a dry-season census of large mammals, the full results of the census will be released in about 3 months. It was the 4th joint survey between the two countries since they established a partnership in 2010.

In April a wet season census discovered that 1930 elephants were in the Amboseli – a rise of 35% compared to wet season numbers in April 2010.

Conservationists and officials have welcomed the rising elephant populations for both wet and dry seasons. The increasing population demonstrates that elephants are recovering well from the droughts in a stable and sustainable way.

KWS Director Mr William Kiprono, who presided over the census closing ceremony at Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli National Park, said: “Amboseli is one of our success stories and we owe it to the local community, which has warded off possible poachers.”

The aerial census sought to show 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.

Most of the funding came through the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) who are also key players in organising cross-border programmes in Africa.

Ms Fiesta Warinwa, AWF Country Director, explained at the closing ceremony that the organisation is backing a number of other cross-border wildlife surveys in the future. These would include counts in Serengeti/Maasai Mara and Tsavo/Mkomazi.

She highlighted that the biggest danger to the elephants and other large mammals of the Amboseli was not poaching but the loss of habitat. Fragmentation and land conversions were the biggest threat to the animals but land degradation were also a threat. She pointed out the issues of charcoal burning and drainage of wetlands for agriculture as the two primary land degradation issues.

Dr. Maurus Msuha, a Principal Research Officer, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), pointed to two issues which he considered to be a threat to the Amboseli ecosystem. He thought that population growth and climate change were becoming key threats to the park.

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 latest census is expected to show that other large herbivores are recovering well from the droughts that affected the park during 2007 and 2009.

During that period 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 61 per cent from 588 to 231 in the Amboseli area.

The wet season census in April revealed that numbers of many of these species are recovering well. Wildebeest have  increased 14,728.  Similarly, zebra numbers have increased to 29,867 while buffalo population  increased 575.

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