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.