A collaborative approach to conserving large free-ranging elephant populations in the Kenya-Tanzania borderlands
David Western and Peadar Brehony
Borderlands Conservation Initiative & African Conservation Centre
The escalating price of ivory on the international market in the last few years threatens the survival of elephant herds across Africa. The threats are as great now as the 1970s and 1980s when a surge in ivory prices plunged Kenya’s elephant population from 160,000 to 19,000 and rhino numbers from 20,000 to 350. The remaining herds retreated to national parks and reserves where they took a heavy toll on woody vegetation and biodiversity. Despite the threats being as grave, Kenya’s commitment and capacity to protect its elephants is far greater now than the 1980s due to wide public support for conservation, the superior anti-poaching forces of KWS, better scientific methods for tracking and protecting herds and more funding. Above all, there is now the commitment and capacity of communities to conserve wildlife and deters poachers where they once moved freely. If, but only if this capacity is mobilized through close collaboration between governments, communities and NGOs, elephants living outside as well as within protected areas can be kept safe. And protecting all of Kenya 37,000 elephants is vital, given that two thirds reside outside parks where they are an economic asset to the 140 private and community conservancies countrywide.
We look at how the largest free-ranging population in eastern Africa, the 25,000 or so elephants spread along Kenya-Tanzania borderlands from Serengeti-Mara to Tsavo-Mkomazi, is being conserved by collaborative efforts under the Borderlands Conservation Initiative. In 2012 BCI brought together government agencies, communities and NGOs spanning the 120,000 square kilometer and 16 parks and reserves to map and monitor elephants movements. The combined effort has produced a comprehensive map of elephant distribution and movements, trained and deployed scouts to vulnerable areas and brought down poaching. The scouts also protect lions and other species and help avert and reduce human-wildlife conflict. BCI will also produce elephant suitability maps for sustaining the free-ranging elephant herds connecting parks and community wildlife areas across the borderlands.