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December 16, 2018

Killing of wildlife by speeding trains worries animal lobbies

A handout photo of a lioness killed by SGR./COURTESY
A handout photo of a lioness killed by SGR./COURTESY

Conservationists have raised the alarm over the killing of wildlife by trains using the standard gauge railway.

In the latest case, a lioness was killed on June 12 near Voi.

Yesterday, conservationists told the Star more iconic species have been killed by speeding trains.

“We are concerned about the deaths, yet nothing is being done,” a conservationist said on condition of anonymity.

However, Kenya Wildlife Service downplayed the concerns. KWS’s Paul Mbugua, seconded to the SGR as a liaison officer, said only one lioness has been killed by a train.

“It was killed about 60km from Voi. It was in a family of lions, which might have separated,” Mbugua said.

In 2016, conservationists under the umbrella of the Conservation Alliance of Kenya protested against building of the railway through the national parks. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The alliance represents more than 50 non-government organisations that have invested in biodiversity conservation.

Mbugua said Tsavo ecosystem, unlike the Nairobi National Park, covers a large area with a lot of wildlife that includes lions. He said a comprehensive electric fence would keep all animals away from the railway line.

“There will be underpasses for the animals. Construction of the electric fence is underway. Seventy per cent is done,” Mbugua said.

The passenger trains travel at an average speed of 120km and animals have little or no time to run for safety. The cargo trains move at 80km per hour. The trains used before the SGR was built were slower.

Mbugua said by the time Tsavo National Park was gazetted in 1948, a railway line was already in place.

He said elephants, which have been fitted with collars to monitor their movements within the Tsavo ecosystem, were doing well.

A study by eight conservation lobbies between July 2015 and June 2016 shows elephants still cross the Nairobi-Mombasa highway instead of using the underpasses.

Six wildlife crossing underpasses, each measuring around 70m long and six metres high, were constructed in 2014 by the company contracted to build the SGR, to enable animals cross safely from one side of the park to the other.

On March 10, 2016, elephants were fitted with collars to track their movement and behaviour towards the SGR project.

The study – Preliminary Indications of the Effect of Infrastructure Development on Ecosystem Connectivity in the Tsavo National Park – indicates it takes many years for wildlife to learn new behaviour.

The survey was done by Save the Elephants, the Tsavo East National Park, the Tsavo Trust, the KWS and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Colorado State University.

Other groups are the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis Geography University of British Columbia, the Oxford University Department of Zoology and Nema.

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