The Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan 2008-2018 ran up against developers bent on yet more lodges and residential estates around the over-crowded eastern border of the national park. Appalled at the prospect of urban sprawl at the gateway to the park, hoteliers and conservation bodies asked the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust to press for gazettement of the plan. AET called on the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA), which called together the parties concerned in 2013. All parties unanimously agreed on a year-long moratorium on any further development, pending the completion of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). AET hired consultants to conduct the assessment with $100,000 donated by the conservation organizations, including ACP and ACC. The assessment was completed late in 2014. NEMA has since authorized the legal gazettement of the Amboseli Ecosystem Management plan, overseen by AET. The legal provisions for the Amboseli ecosystem plan is the first of its kind. The plan zones and limits developments to ensure that the seasonal movements of wildlife and livestock remain unimpaired.
Over 30,000 elephants were poached across Africa in 2013, driven by the sky-rocketing price of ivory and illegal trafficking. Kenya was cited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species as a major conduit for the export of ivory. Over the last year Kenya Wildlife Service has been lambasted in the press and by watchdog conservation bodies for covering up a poaching crisis in Kenya. KWS countered that poaching fell in 2014: poaching is under control following a concerted effort by government forces. At the urging of ACP in the Ministry of the Environment, KWS convened a National Elephant Conference on 19th and 20th February to take stock of the status of elephants.
A summary of the continental picture by the African Elephant Specialist Group showed that poaching posed a grave threat to the species, especially in West, Central Africa and much of Eastern Africa. In contrast, elephant populations remained stable in Southern Africa. Kenya showed a decrease in poaching in 2014. The findings were supported by detailed locational analysis by KWS and Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants. The number of poached elephants as a proportion of all animals dying fell below critical levels in most populations, with the notable exception of Maasai Mara.
Though the decline in poaching is good news, the status of Kenya’s elephants overall is clouded by uncertainties over numbers in forested parks, including Abedares and Mount Kenya. Forest parks, which account for twenty percent or more of the Kenya’s elephant population, have not been counted in years.
The best news came from Amboseli. Here poaching levels remain negligible—only one for certain, perhaps three in 2014, all on the periphery of their range. Numbers have reached 1,500 and are still growing after recovering 2009 drought losses. The population is also expanding its range, making Amboseli one of the safest locations in eastern and central Africa.
Amboseli’s success in protecting elephants stems in large measure from the engagement of the Maasai community in conservation dating back to the mid-1970s. At the KWS conference David Western reviewed the history of the Amboseli elephant population based on his long-term monitoring work starting in 1967. He showed that ivory poaching killed off half the elephants in less than five years in the early 1970s. Poaching stopped abruptly once the community began benefiting from parks revenues, this despite the continuing losses to poachers throughout Kenya until the world-wide ivory ban of 1990. By then, the Amboseli elephants had recovered to their pre-poaching levels.
The recent success of elephant conservation in Amboseli is due to KWS field forces, organizations such as Big Life, Amboseli Trust, ACC and other NGOs funding the network of some 300 community scouts, and the backing of the Maasai community. The lessons from Amboseli and need for a broad collaborative approach to conserving elephants in the Kenya-Tanzania borderlands was presented at the Kenya National Elephant Workshop at Kenya Wildlife Service, Nairobi.
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.
The rising numbers and spreading herds of elephants in Amboseli is a conservation success, but fast posing a new problem to people and small farms (shambas). In the last few months elephants have killed four people and destroyed millions dozens of shambas. One community blocked the Loitokitok Road until KWS took action on an elephant that killed a local resident.
The Assistant Director Southern, Julius Cheptei, called a meeting of conservation organizations and government agencies at Serena Lodge on 24th February to address the conflict. He expressed his concern that community support for elephants would wane if the conflict is not addressed promptly. He wants Amboseli to have the first human-elephant conflict plan in Kenya and to move quickly.
David Western gave a backdrop to the history of elephants and people in Amboseli at the opening of the meeting. He noted that after the world-wide ivory ban of 1990, human-elephant conflict had risen steeply around Kenya as elephant numbers rose, herds spread and lost their fear of people. KWS took firm measures to contain the conflict. Quelling the conflict in Amboseli calls for a collaboration between KWS, NGOs and communities under the umbrella of the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust. Success hinges on mapping and tracking elephant movements, anticipating high conflict areas, and taking early action to prevent threats to people and property.
Craig Miller of Big Life gae an update on human-elephant conflict. There were over 553 crop-raiding incidents in 2014 at an estimated cost of Ksh 43 million, nearly half a million dollars. He estimated that only a third of all cases were reported. Most farmers don’t bother reporting incidents, given the time involved and lack of response. Conflict was now a far bigger threat to elephants and people than poaching. Noah Sitati of African Wildlife Foundation gave a comprehensive presentation on the many ways to address elephant conflict.
The meeting concluded that a two phase plan is needed, the first a rapid response to the current conflict, the second a longer term strategic plan to avoid conflict though spatial planning and aversive measures. The first steps will set up a common database to map and anticipate elephant movements, identifying conflict hotspots and train up extra rangers and scouts to contain conflict and forewarn and prepare communities.
David Western and former director of ACC, John Waithaka, attended the World Parks Congress in Sydney in November 2014 to address a special session on human-wildlife conflict. Together with John Kamanga of the South Rift Association of Landowners they gave a talk on Finding Space for Wildlife Beyond National Parks and Reducing Conflict Through Community-Based Conservation: the Kenya Experience. The looked at the progress in community-based conservation since Amboseli was selected as a pioneering endeavor presented at the World Parks Congress in 1982. The article appears in the March issue of Parks magazine