Kenya marks World Elephant Day with calls for enhanced protection

Human activities have had a dramatic impact on wildlife populations

In Summary

• World Elephant Day is meant to bring attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants.

• Kenya has 35,000 elephants 

An African Elephant with its calf in Ol Jogi wildlife conservancy in Laikipia on July 5, 2021.
An African Elephant with its calf in Ol Jogi wildlife conservancy in Laikipia on July 5, 2021.

Kenya on Thursday joined the rest of the world in marking this year’s World Elephant Day with a clarion call by conservationists to save iconic and endangered species.

The country has about 35,000 elephants. In 1989, there were 16,000 elephants.

Tourism CS Najib Balala said World Elephant Day is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the animals.

“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness and social intelligence,” he said.

The day is marked to bring attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants. 

Kenya Wildlife Service director-general John Waweru said even as the majestic species are celebrated, there is a need to shift effort towards mitigation of human-elephant conflict.

Waweru said the expansion in community conservancies in the last decade has seen a significant boost in the efforts to win space for elephants. However, there is still a need for more space for these priceless species, he said.

"KWS, in collaboration with various conservation stakeholders, is working to conserve these gentle giants," Waweru said.

In 2015, KWS put in place a forensic laboratory with a genetic database of rhino and elephant DNA, as well as a monitoring system.

The laboratory helps obtain critical data, which enables scientists to track endangered species and, if needed, link them to suspected poachers.

Wildlife DNA forensics—the development of analytical techniques capable of providing DNA evidence to assist in conservation law enforcement—is bridging the gap between conservation genetics and law enforcement.

Statistics from the Tourism ministry show that 80 elephants were killed by poachers in 2017. The number decreased to 38 in 2018. Another 38 were killed by poachers in 2019.

The Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association says Kenya has lost nearly 70 per cent of its wildlife during the past 30 years.

Loss of space and connectivity and the increasing development pressures and impacts of climate change are threatening Kenya’s iconic wildlife.

Human-wildlife conflict is another challenge as the government has yet to pay Sh14 billion for the victims.

The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013, requires Sh5 million to be paid for human death, Sh3 million for injury with a permanent disability, and up to Sh2 million for other injuries, depending on their extent.

Some 65 per cent of Kenya’s wildlife is on community and private land; conservancies provide connected landscapes that complement national parks and reserves.

In the Maasai Mara, for example, 15 conservancies protect over 450,000 acres of critical habitat for the great Serengeti-Mara wildebeest migration.

Kenyan has 160 conservancies that cover 6.36 million hectares.

Dr Winnie Kiiru from the Elephant Protection Initiative said the global community should come together to sustainably conserve elephants.

"Communities hosting wildlife must have sustainable livelihoods as they share space with wildlife," she said.

Elephant Protection Initiative comprises 21 African countries, including Kenya, determined to end the killing of elephants. Most surviving elephants live in these countries.

In March 2021, following new research into the genetics of elephant populations, African elephants were reclassified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as two distinct species—African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana). 

African elephant numbers have plummeted from 1.2 million in the 1970s to only around 500,000 alive today. They were previously listed in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as vulnerable.

The African forest elephant was reassessed in March 2021 as critically endangered, following decades of population decline due to poaching for ivory and loss of habitat.

The African savanna elephant was reassessed as endangered. 

Elephant poaching across much of the savannah elephant range in east and southern Africa has been reduced. Today, poaching has been reduced to a point that it does not pose a current threat.

However, elephants are far from being safe.


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