Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Passageway seeks to lead elephants away from perennial combat zones

File | NATION A herd of elephants graze at the Amboseli National Park. A new elephant corridor aims at providing a safe passageway for elephants in the northern part of Mount Kenya National Park.

File | NATION A herd of elephants graze at the Amboseli National Park. A new elephant corridor aims at providing a safe passageway for elephants in the northern part of Mount Kenya National Park. 

By ASHLEY LIME alime@ke.nationmedia.com

The completion of an elephant corridor to the north of Mt Kenya is set to end frequent human-wildlife conflict.

The 28-kilometre elephant corridor has an electrified game-proof fence that aims at providing a safe passageway for elephants in the northern part of Mount Kenya National Park.

This being the first of its kind in Kenya, efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict that has characterised the area for long may soon bear fruit.

According to Virgin Atlantic country manager David Rose, the initiative aims at ensuring long-term survival of the elephant population in the Mt Kenya region.

“Around 2,000 elephants will benefit from this corridor since we need to protect them, along with the villages, farms and people around them,” Mr Rose said.

The project was created to link the Mount Kenya National Park to Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve to enable elephants benefit from the diverse resources offered by each habitat.

The initiative will also help severed migration routes and create conservation areas in Mt Kenya, Ngare Ndare, Borana Ranch, Lewa Conservancy and numerous protected areas in the northern rangelands.

A completed underpass beneath the Nanyuki-Meru highway is also a major part of the corridor and will allow elephants to walk through rather than cross the busy highway.

Mr Michael Dyer, the owner of Borana Lodge, said that elephants would pass through a corridor that is about 4m wide.

“This corridor will mitigate illegal trade activities such as poaching,” Mr Dyer said.

Farming communities

The Mount Kenya Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service have been erecting a fence on the Mt Kenya boundary to reduce conflict between the farming communities and elephants.

However, according to Mt Kenya Trust executive officer Susie Weeks, fencing may be an effective tool for conflict alleviation, but it severs migration routes previously used by elephants.

“We seek to avoid problems caused by an ‘island’ out of several protected areas and manage wildlife movements in a manner which minimises potential human-wildlife conflict,” Ms Weeks said.

She maintained that the movement of elephants between the high country on Mt Kenya and the dry low country to the north and west was occasioned by seasonal migration patterns and the need to seek mineral supplements lacking on Mt Kenya.

The reopening of migration routes is also significant in mitigating the inevitable destruction of fragile habitats that become isolated by fencing and dense human population, she said.

There is optimism the project will work since a tracking procedure carried out on leaders of elephant packs indicated that they were using the corridor.

“Elephants are incredibly intelligent animals and can sense where there’s danger. They are already using the corridor and underpass since they have realised it provides safety for them,” Ms Weeks said.

Virgin Atlantic general manager Jonathan Harding said wildlife conservation should be enhanced in Kenya to promote tourism.

“More people coming to Kenya are particularly interested in seeing conservation taking place,” he said.