Kenya enhances elephant security with satellite collars

Nairobi, Dec 4: Wildlife conservationists in Kenya Tuesday begun tracking four elephants using satellite technology to help reduce conflict and enhance security in the world famous Amboseli game reserve.

A team of scientists, researchers and veterinarians from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and School of Field Studies (SFS) will fit the elephants with tracking collars in a two-day exercise, Xinhua reported.

Head of species research programmes at KWS Charles Musyoki said monitoring elephant movements in the Amboseli ecosystem is a fundamental prescription of Kenya’s national elephant conservation and management strategy.

“This scientific study will go a long way in generating accurate, almost real time and up to date information that is critical for managing and conserving elephants on one hand and enhancing local people’s livelihoods on the other,” Musyoki said.

Located in the Rift Valley in Kenya, the Amboseli landscape includes the park, the Maasai community group ranches namely Olgulului-Olorarashi, Kimana, Mbirikani, Selengei, Kuku and Rombo.

These stretch to Mt Kilimanjaro, and straddle the Kenya-Tanzania border and Chyulu Hills. Amboseli elephant populations were estimated at 1,400 according to the last total aerial census conducted in 2012. Currently, Kenya has about 37,000 elephants.

During the exercise, the scientists will fit three pre-selected females and one male with the collars. In February six elephants — four males and two females — were collared at four group ranches bringing to 66 tracking collars on elephant in the country.

The collars, which transmit a satellite and radio signal, will help KWS map out the elephants’ migratory and dispersal routes – critical areas utilised by the elephants, and identify how expansively the elephants travel in search of water and food.

IFAW East Africa head of programs Steve Njumbi said the satellite collars will save the lives of both elephants and human populations in the long run.

“Using science we can understand where and how the elephants in this area move about, and we can use this information to help us prioritise human-elephant conflict interventions, as well as save the migratory routes that elephants in this area have been using for millennia,” Njumbi said.

Earlier studies on the elephant population have focused on individuals’ behavioural patterns, helping understand interactions in the social structure of the animal.

The joint study is part of IFAW’s Amboseli Project, which includes enhancing KWS’ law enforcement capabilities, leasing critical corridors and dispersal areas in community land, creating conservation awareness and local capacity for ecotourism ventures, and mitigating human-elephant conflict.

A recent dry season joint Kenya/Tanzania census in October for elephants and other large mammals in Amboseli ecosystem estimated a total of 1,193 elephants, compared to a similar dry season in October 2010 count of 1,065.