Collaring the coastal elephants (Kipini Conservancy)


by Alice Leslie

Date Published

On the 13th of February Save the Elephants and the Kenya Wildlife Service sent a team of eight down to the North Kenyan coast in pursuit of some of Kenya’s last coastal elephants. In this remote and wild forest that flanks the shores of the Indian Ocean, there lives a very shy and heavily poached population of elephants. Very little is known about these animals and we were really excited to have the opportunity to find out more about them.

On arrival we set out immediately in Save the Elephants’ aeroplane to look for signs of elephant, but our task proved much harder than we’d expected. Even with intensive aerial surveillance and reports from scouts and local communities on the ground we were unable to find any clues. In the words of our senior researcher, David Daballen, “there was not even a sausage of an elephant for the first two days!”

We were eventually heartened by fresh tracks in wet sand, and reports from KWS rangers and scouts of recent sightings.

On our third day we saw a family of elephants and a bull in a sandy opening, but they quickly vanished under the thick canopy of trees. We stayed with them and by using a helicopter, we were able to dart and attach a satellite tracking collar to the bull.

Throughout the operation STE’s plane kept watch for the rest of the family, circling above the helicopter. We call this bull Tana, as we first met him around the Tana River Delta, a beautiful wide river flowing into the Indian Ocean.

On day four we set out early and after two hours of flying spotted an elephant’s back flashing through the forest. Three large bulls were moving through dense forest in Kipini Conservancy, just south of Lamu. Luckily, we managed to collar our second elephant, an enormous bull with short thick-set tusks which we named Kipini.

We are now watching Kipini and Tana daily on Google Earth, following their movements as they travel through seemingly impenetrable forests, entering clearings for food and water.

We hope to return to attach more collars further North, close to Kiwayu and up towards Somalia, in the near future. Watch this space!

Save the Elephants would like to thank everyone who has helped us with this very difficult and expensive operation. In particular the US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Kipini Conservancy, Manda Bay, Halvor Astrup, all individual donors and our partners and friends within the Kenya Wildlife Service.