Nairobi, Jan 23 (IANS) The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and various stakeholders plan to carry out an aerial census of elephants in the expansive Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem early next month.
KWS said the results of the Feb 4-10 exercise will help policy makers and park management make sound decisions on resource allocation for security operations and conflict management, Xinhua reported.
"The census will be aimed at establishing the populations, trends and distribution of elephants as well as map out human activities inside and outside the protected areas," Paul Udoto, corporate affairs manager of KWS, said in a statement Thursday.
According to Udoto, common challenges facing Tsavo's management are poaching for ivory, human encroachment and habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict, livestock incursions into the parks, and the adverse and emergent effects of climate change such as severe droughts.
The six-day total aerial census for elephants and large mammals is being co-funded by the KWS and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants, Africa Elephant Fund, Save the Elephants and Tsavo Trust.
The statement said a number of pilots have also volunteered to join the exercise conducted every two years. The Tsavo ecosystem censuses have been conducted every three years since 2002.
Previous aerial census in 2011 in the same area showed that the elephant population stood at 12,572, up from 11,696 recorded in the last census in 2008.
KWS had then attributed the decline in growth rate to the severe drought Kenya suffered in 2009, which claimed hundreds of young and aged elephants.
"The elephant is Kenya's flagship species and so its distribution and condition is a good indicator of the status of our wildlife," said Udoto.
The Tsavo census usually covers Mkomazi in Tanzania, Tsavo West, Tsavo East, Chyullu Hills national parks, South Kitui National Reserve as well as the outlying areas of Taita ranches and Mackinnon area in Kwale.
The Tsavo ecosystem is critical for elephant conservation as it is home to the largest population of elephants and covers approximately 4 percent of Kenya's landmass.
The fluctuation of Tsavo's elephant populations over the decades has had significant impacts on the ecology of the ecosystem.
In 1967, the ecosystem had some 35,000 elephants while about 5,400 individuals were left in 1988. Heavy armed poaching and severe drought were responsible for this rapid decline.
However, since the 1990s, concerted efforts by KWS and other conservation partners have seen elephant populations steadily increase to the current number.
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