Elephant populations in Kenya’s game parks, the famous Masai Mara and Amboseli National Parks are said to be increasing by almost 4% annually, nearly reaching the capacity of these wildlife areas to support the big animals.
The downside of the increase in elephant numbers is as elephant researcher Jim Nyamu tells allAfrica.com that:
"… Herds have outgrown the resources in the protected areas and are venturing out,"
Kenya’s elephant population is estimated at around 35000 elephants, a great recovery from the dramatic drop seen in the 1980’s due to poaching.
Researchers have been monitoring elephant movements using electronic tracking collars since 2006 and trained scouts have also been observing the elephants in the South Rift area of Kenya, bordering Tanzania. The findings show that the elephants are venturing beyond the borders of the famous Masai Mara, which shares unfenced boundaries with Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, and Amboseli Parks to
“...as far as Kajiado, Magadi and even Suswa in Narok and into Tanzania.”
Kenya’s elephants are confirming the idiom of having a “memory like an elephant” by trying to reclaim old migratory routes as well as roaming into areas where elephants were previously not sighted.
Five years ago the South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) was established to encourage non-land subdivision management aimed at keeping ranches near the national parks open as areas for conservation. The conservation area consisting of two ranches is used for tourism and conservation, unless in cases of extreme draught when grazing and farming is permitted. In allAfrica.com’s report Nyamu, who also heads the Trans Border Elephant Project, says the plan is
"…to create elephant pathways aimed at connecting elephant population either side of the Rift Valley and establishing the connectivity pathways to Kenya South and northern Tanzania and a link between Amboseli and Maasai Mara,"
Tourism ventures at this conservation area is being managed to benefit the local community, improving the relationship between Kenyans and the wildlife. According to allAfrica.com SORALO, coordinator John Kamanga says:
"We are establishing more conservancies and tourism facilities so that we can market the South Rift as a single tourist destination,"
The African Conservation Centre, SORALO and the Kenya Wildlife Society (KWS) offer paramilitary training courses for scouts that are trained to secure the conservation areas and monitor wildlife using GPS tracking systems.
The Masai Mara and Amboseli Park, famous for its close encounters with huge elephant populations, lie about 300 kilometers apart in southern Kenya. Nyamu says about two-thirds of the elephants frequently move outside the game parks into private land, where they cause damage to properties even injuring or killing people. It’s isn’t surprising that human and elephant conflict has increased over the past five years and Nyamu tells allAfrica.com that:
"…once the elephants spill over, there is bound to be competition for water and pasture. Farm raids will be a frequent occurrence,”
The African Elephant Status Report of 2007 already noted that the biggest issue facing elephant conservation in Kenya was human-elephant conflict.
The state run Kenya Wildlife Society (KWS) established a Elephant Programme in 1989 to help save Kenya’s elephants from extinction by poaching. The Elephant Programme is still operating today and sees KWS working with communities and other organizations to protect and manage Kenya’s elephant populations. One of the KWS Elephant Programme objectives is to ensure the long term survival of elephant populations in Kenya’s game parks:
“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;”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is also trying
“to link fragmented habitat and migratory corridors by working with community groups near protected areas in Kenya”
As a top safari destination in Africa, Kenya depends on successful wildlife conservation and management for the economic stability wildlife tourism provides. Hopefully combined conservation efforts to reduce conflict between Kenya’s elephants and local people will see Kenya’s elephant populations continuing to grow steadily in the future, attracting more people to visit the beautiful wildlife parks and reserves of Kenya.
Check out the Google Map of Kenya to see where the Masai Mara and Amboseli Parks are located.