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KWS enhances elephant security with satellite collars

04 December 2013, 09:08

Nairobi - Wildlife conservationists on 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.

Head of Species Research Programs 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 utilized 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 prioritize human-elephant conflict interventions, as well as save the migratory routes that elephants in this area have been using for millennia," Njumbi said.

"Seen in human terms, the information we gather will give us an elephant's eye view of optimum lifestyle standards for these giant creatures."

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

The three wildlife agencies have been tracking elephant populations around the Amboseli ecosystem to determine their needs for space and resources, and ultimately help mitigate human- elephant conflict.

Over the years, an increasing human population and land use changes have meant that elephants have less and less space to use.

The exercise aims to effectively equip KWS to design intervention measures for human-elephant conflict mitigation as well as mount security operations.

It is expected that the study result will help make a case for the connection of the elephant's favored habitats by securing critical corridors and securing the areas that are essential for sustaining Amboseli's rich wildlife heritage.

Senior Director of the SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies in Kenya and Tanzania Professor Moses Okello said that elephants need space and resources in order to be free and viable and to fulfill the flagship role they play in East Africa.

"The IFAW, KWS, and SFS partnership brings together our organizations' shared passion, vision, research, and management resources to help enhance the population, range and viability of the charismatic Amboseli elephant," he said.

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.

- Xinhua


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