The elephants are back. With their numbers rising, an unfailing memory and a dearth of poachers, the animals have put the worst time of their lives in Kenya, the 1980s, behind them.
Their population is galloping along at almost four per cent annually, and has almost outgrown the capacity of the protected areas of Maasai Mara and Amboseli national parks.
Following closely the movements of Lady Lorna and an older elephant called Kiramatian, scientists at the African Centre for Conservation have established that elephants are indeed increasingly venturing out of the protected areas.
Between 2006 and 2010 the researchers put electronic collars on the two elephants to help trace the herd movements. This combined with a trained group of security scouts in the South Rift has seen the animals try to reclaim their old rangelands.
Following the elephant poaching years of the 1980s which dramatically cut the country’s population from about 167,000 to 16,000, the government established several protected areas.
The population is now recovering with a national heard of about 35,000 animals.
“Now this creates a new problem. Herds have outgrown the resources in the protected areas and are venturing out,” says Jim Nyamu, an elephant researcher with the African Conservation Centre.
The main elephant sanctuaries established then, in the South Rift for example, were the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the Amboseli National Park both running parallel with the Tanzania border.
In between the two protected enclaves, is an estimated distance of 300 kilometres or approximately 12,000 square kilometres falling within Kajiado County and covering Central, Namanga and Magadi divisions.
“This land belong either to individuals or group ranches and once the elephants spill over, there is bound to be competition for water and pasture. Farm raids will be a frequent occurrence,” says Nyamu who has also been in charge of the Trans Border Elephant Project.
The researcher says that about two-thirds of the elephants are known to move frequently outside parks into private land, causing damage to property and loss of human life and or injury.
Data collected in the last four years indicates the animals are moving from the two protected Mara and Amboseli areas to as far as Kajiado, Magadi and even Suswa in Narok and into Tanzania. Information collected by the community scouts show more elephant sighting in areas where previously there was no evidence of the animals.
“In the last four years, there have been appearances of elephants in Ngong which is a very interesting happening,” says the researcher.
In three different years, 2006, 2007 and 2008, a group of different elephants visited Ngong, Corner Baridi and went up to Kitengela. With this foregoing, people in Ngong should expect more elephant visits mainly as a result of compression in the protected areas.
In 2009 there was also an unusual sighting of an elephant in the highly populated Kiserian and Rongai near Nazarene University, which was captured by KWS personnel to avoid conflict.
The researcher says there has been an increase of elephant and human conflict in the last five years in the study area. Such include the elephants destroying fences, houses, food stores, dams, crops and other infrastructure.
Of specific interest to the researchers is the emergence of elephants in Kajiado Central, an area that is undergoing rapid land subdivision.
Nyamu predicts high chances that bigger groups of elephants will continue to visit this area and even become residents.
The country now is faced with the dilemma of a growing heard and declining elephant habitat. Five years ago ACC facilitated the formation of the South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) which encourages a non land subdivision management option to keep ranches open for conservation.
The conservation area involves two ranches Olkiramatian and Shompole which are closed to farming and grazing, unless in very extreme drought conditions. It is dedicated to tourism and conservation activities.
“The objective is to create elephant pathways aimed at connecting elephant population either side of the Rift Valley and establishing the connectivity pathways to Kenya South and northern Tanzania and a link between Amboseli and Maasai Mara,” says Nyamu.
The conservation area is currently hosting two world class tourism facilities Shompole Lodge and Loisiijo which in prearranged agreements share the proceeds with the community.
This symbiotic relationship, says the researcher, guarantees the community a return while conserving diversity.
The women in the Magadi conservation area have established a group resource centre which runs various activities from, offering accommodation, selling beads and other income generating enterprises.
“We are establishing more conservancies and tourism facilities so that we can market the South Rift as a single tourist destination,” says John Kamanga the Soralo, coordinator.
The African Conservation Centre, Solaro, and KWS are offering paramilitary training to its scouts who secure the conservancy area and monitoring animals using GPS tracking system.