Kenya lost 80 per cent of its elephants in 50 years


Jeremiah Wakaya, Capital News

Date Published

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Kenya’s elephant population has declined by almost 80 per cent over the past fifty years.

This is according to the Living Planet Index (LPI) 2016 Report by the Wild Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature which puts the global decline in wildlife population at 58 per cent over the same period.

Speaking during the launch of report on Wednesday, WWF’s Conservation Director for Kenya, Jared Bosire, said the elephant population in the country had drastically reduced from an estimated 170,000 in 1970’s to about 35,000 at the moment.

“In 70’s we had about 20,000 rhinos in the country, we have about 678 now – so you see that kind of a reduction is significant at a global level but very much applicable in the local context as well,” Bosire said.

The decline witnessed over the past fifty years has mainly been as a result of the intense pressure food production has had on the ecosystems and various species with agriculture said to be occupying about a third of the earth’s total land area.

According to the report food production is therefore the main transgressor among the four planetary boundaries transgressors which include; climate, land system change, biosphere integrity and biochemical flow.

“Changes are required across the food chain, from planet to plate, to reduce the pressures and impacts created by the current food system on the planet and its resources,” Bosire noted.

According to the report, terrestrial LPI declined by 38 per cent followed by marine LPI which recorded a 36 per cent global drop. Freshwater LPI was the hardest hit with population abundance in the world’s waters declining by a whopping 81 per cent between 1970 and 2012.

Among the species said to be under threat include the African elephant, the black rhino, the lion, marine turtles and fish species popularly known as tuna.

Speaking during the launch of the report WWF Africa Regional Director Margaret Kinnaird noted that habitat loss and land degradation has continued to pose a threat to wildlife sanctuaries.

“Habitat loss and degradation really do a lot to unsustainable agriculture and natural resource extraction like logging, mining and firewood collection,” Kinnaird observed.

Other threats outlined in the report include species overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, disease and climate change.

With the world population having increased exponentially to about seven billion, tropical forest cover is said to have been lost by about 30 per cent since 1700 AD. Carbon emissions have also increased to about 390 parts per million since 1750.

Human activities and resource uses are also said to have grown so drastically that the environmental conditions that fostered development and growth are beginning to deteriorate.

According to WWF’s Africa Regional Director Fred Kwame the world’s population is surpassing the boundaries of what the planet could cope with, including the limits of its regenerative capacity.

“There’re positive things happening but they’re stuck against the challenge of a huge decline in the population of animals which will in turn have an impact on the ecosystem and the services that nature offers us,” Kwame noted.

The report by WWF therefore recommends a transition towards an adaptive and resilient food system that provides nutritious food for all within the boundaries of a single planet. The report however points out that sustainability and resilience will only be achieved if the majority of the earth’s population understands the value and the needs of an increasingly fragile planet.

The Ecological Footprint of Consumption equates humanity’s demand for nature to the amount of biological productive area required to provide resources and absorb waste (carbon dioxide from fossil fuel, land-use change and cement). The demand categories are divided into six main categories which include; cropland footprint, grazing land footprint, fishing grounds footprint, forest footprint, build-up land footprint and carbon footprint.

In order to avert a crisis due to declining elephant populations, WWF intends to champion the expansion of elephant range areas and lead human-elephant conflict mitigation campaigns.

WWF is currently implementing programmes with focus on policy engagement, enhancing advocacy capacity, promoting sustainable investments, limiting the adverse impact of oil and gas exploration, promoting the adoption of community-based natural resources management and promoting renewable and clean energy while at the same time addressing climate change.

The report which was produced in collaboration with ZSL Let’s Work for Wildlife & Global Footprint Network also noted with concern the decline in traditional systems of farming which it says encouraged biodiversity urging for adoption renewable energy to curb carbon emissions in a bid to mitigate on climate change.