Census shows wildlife thriving as population rises

Livestock incursions, logging, charcoal burning, settlements and fires observed in conservation areas

In Summary
  • The census covered over 343,380km2 (total aerial = 186,296km2 and sample aerial = 157,084km2).
  • This represents 59 per cent of Kenya’s landmass.
Save the Elephants pilot Miles Geldard confirms with an observer on the transect routes to cover before embarking on the census at an airstrip in Mpala Centre on July 3 Image: MARGARET WANJIRU
Save the Elephants pilot Miles Geldard confirms with an observer on the transect routes to cover before embarking on the census at an airstrip in Mpala Centre on July 3 Image: MARGARET WANJIRU

Kenya's charismatic species such as elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, and hirola have increased, the findings of the first-ever census shows.

However, there were relatively lower records of the plain game species, the National Wildlife Census 2021 report which was unveiled on Monday shows.

Over 30 mammal species, birds and marine species were counted in various ecosystems during the census that was launched by Tourism CS Najib Balala on May 7 at Shimba Hills National Reserve in Kwale county.

Some of the iconic species counted were elephants (36,280), black rhino (897), white rhino (842), northern rhino (2), lions (2,589), hyenas (5,189), cheetahs (1,160), wild dogs (865), and buffalo (41,659).

Others counted include Maasai giraffe (13,530), reticulated giraffe (19,725), Nubian’s giraffe (938), common zebra (121,911), Grevy’s zebra (2,649), eland (13,581), hartebeest (7,332), wildebeest (57,813), and Grant’s gazelle (66,709).

Thomson’s gazelle (18,277), hirola (497), topi (8,627), impala (25,541), oryx (11,765), kudu (2,524), gerenuk (13,400), waterbuck (1,071), warthog (8,013), hippo (1,788), Maasai Ostrich (2,354), Somali Ostrich (6,483), roan antelope (15), sable antelope (51), and Mountain Bongo (150) were counted.

Others counted included Sitatunga (473), Tana River Mangabey monkey (1,650) and Tana River red Colobus Monkey (1,219), among other terrestrial species.

Key marine species counted were, sea turtle nests (340), dugong (2), Whale Shark (9), Humpback Whales (63), Indo- Pacific bottlenose Dolphin (354), Blue Whale (2), Scalloped Hammerhead shark (222), Silky Shark (495), Giant Guitarfish (89), Bowmouth guitarfish (23), Mobula rays (11), Oceanic whitetip shark (358), Long comb sawfish, narrow snout sawfish or green sawfish (60), Great white shark (29) and Tiger shark (17) among other marine species.

Among the waterfowl birds counted were: the lesser flamingoes (978,005 individuals), greater flamingoes (748 individuals), great white pelicans (523), pink-backed pelicans (360), great comorants (4,292 individuals), long-tailed comorants (733 individuals), African darters (639), African fish eager (57 individuals), yellow-billed stork (720 individuals), Egyptian geese (963) and red-knobbed coot (692 individuals).

During the exercise, a number of anthropogenic activities such as livestock incursions, logging, charcoal burning, settlements and fires were observed in conservation areas.

The report identifies some of the challenges such as habitat loss, land use and land tenure systems change, exponential human population growth, and accompanying demand for land for settlement and infrastructure as the reasons for low densities of plain game.

This report gives an overview of the national wildlife census results.

Kenya has a rich wildlife resource which is the main tourism product, a key economic pillar of Vision 2030.

However, the country is not receiving maximum benefits from the wildlife resource due to inadequate knowledge on the status and distribution of the country’s wildlife populations.

The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act- 2013 requires the Tourism CS to submit and report biannually to the National Assembly, a National Wildlife Conservation Status Report as well as provide the status of wildlife monitoring every five years.

The Sh250 million exercise was conducted by the Tourism ministry Kenya Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Research and Training Institute for three months from April to July 2021.

The specific objective of the national census was to establish a national baseline of wildlife species. The census targeted terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

The census enumerated land and water mammals, key birds and endangered primates.

This was achieved through total aerial counts, sample aerial counts, ground counts, individual identification and indirect methods such as dung counts and use of camera traps and desktop review of the previous census.

The census involved the use of aircraft (fixed-winged and helicopters), boats, vehicles, Dictaphones, cameras, camera traps and used Geographic Information Systems to record and analyse observations.

A total of 100 personnel were involved in various census sites and were drawn from government agencies at national and county levels, conservation partners, private and community conservancies, local communities among other stakeholders.

The census covered over 343,380km2 (total aerial = 186,296km2 and sample aerial = 157,084km2).

This represents 59 per cent of Kenya’s landmass.

A total of 1158.23 hours was flown (940.80 hours and 217.43 hours for total and sample aerial censuses respectively).

The results from the national census will provide important baseline data to inform policy to sustainably conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife resources for current generations and for posterity.

The report recommends that the National Wildlife Census be conducted after every three years in line with wildlife ecological cycles.

The report urged the National Treasury for a budgetary allocation.

“An annual budget is required to support annual and active monitoring of rare and endemic species such as roan antelope, sable antelope, mountain bongo, rhino, Grevy’s zebra, hirola and sitatunga,” it says.

It also said an immediate budget support is required to establish status of species currently threatened by illegal trade and bush meat such as pangolins, dik diks and gazelles and those species that were not covered during the census such as leopard, small carnivores and non-human primates.

“There is need for review of legislation to recognise community conservancies as protected areas as they constitute important wildlife range.”

The report says in order to improve the ecological integrity of dormant parks and reserves, there is need to enhance public-private partnerships.

It calls for budgetary support to establish a data portal and access mechanism at the Wildlife Research and Training Institute to inform wildlife management as part of its mandate.

“For the endangered, rare and endemic species such the black rhino, mountain bongo, roan antelope, sable antelope among others, there is need for budgetary allocation to support development and implementation of their recovery plans,” the report says.

It said deliberate efforts need to be made to secure existing rhino population and additional space for rhinos due to the huge investment costs, security and management requirements.

It calls for an investment in new innovations, modern census equipment and software to improve efficiency in undertaking wildlife census.

County governments have also been urged to incorporate the census findings in the development of the county integrated development plans and spatial plans.

The report calls for the full operationalisation of the Wildlife Research and Training Institute which is the corporate body mandated to undertake and coordinate wildlife research.

-Edited by SKanyara

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