An aerial census of elephants and other large mammals in the Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro and Natron-Magadi landscape took off two days ago. The one-week procedure which will reportedly cost Sh12 million is the result of collaboration between the Kenyan and Tanzania governments and aims to establish the landscape’s wildlife population abundance, trends and distribution.
The aerial census comes at the height of massive poaching on elephants and rhinos in many parts of Africa, an activity that experts have warned if not contained could see to the extinction of elephants in Africa. Asia continues to be the world’s largest market for ivory (white gold).
ELEPHANTS FACE EXTINCTION
Last year, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute warned that Tanzanian elephants could be extinct within seven years if current poaching trends continue.
In Kenya, the illegal killing of elephants has been rising at an alarming rate. According to reports by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) the country lost 289 elephants to poaching in 2011, 384 elephants and 29 rhinos in 2012 and by May this year, we had lost 190 elephants and 34 rhinos but judging from recent seizures of ivory in transit and elephant killings since then, the numbers have definitely gone higher.
The numbers of elephants and rhino’s have been reducing at an alarming rate. The number of elephants in Kenya for instance has reduced from a high of 160,000 in 1970s to below 30,000. According to KWS, between the 1970s and 1980s Kenya lost over 80 per cent of her elephants, mainly due to intensive poaching.
RHINOS – “THEY JUST WEREN’T THERE”
The number of rhino’s in the country is reported to be 1,025 and if nothing much is done to contain poaching, this species will become extinct. Rhinos are poached for their valuable horn which again sells in the Asian markets, particular in China.
The Kenya Forum spoke to an expert game driver who has over 30 years’ experience taking tourists and wildlife film crews into the Maasai Mara. He said that on five visits to the Mara this year, for the first time in his long experience, he was not able to find one rhino and he added, “Believe me, I know where to look for rhino, they just weren’t there this time”.
Although it has not been officially established, many have speculated an association between the recent massive killings of elephants and the Al-Shabaab terror group. The argument is that the Al-Qaeda linked militia has resorted to poaching as one of its main source of funding.
CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE
The slaughter of elephants in Africa has attracted global concern and last month conservation groups announced a three-year $80 million Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment to Action that will bring together NGOs, governments and concerned citizens to stop the slaughter of Africa’s elephants.
ACT NOW OR KENYA BECOMES JUST A ZOO
The Kenya Forum fears that many Kenyans, including in government both nationally and locally, do not realize the full extent of the crises facing the country’s wildlife. Kenya contains in the Maasai Mara one of the great wonders of the world (and in many other parts of the country too) and within that one of the great, wondrous animals, the elephant. If we do not take action soon to save the elephant what will our country become, a zoo?