Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has admitted that population of buffaloes and elephants in Tsavo Ecosystem is on the decline.
Dr. Erastus Kanga, Senior Assistant Director for Biodiversity, Research and Monitoring, said land use for settlements and farming is to blame for the shrinking wildlife population.
He was speaking at Mwatate on Wednesday during the closure of 3-day training for data specialists and pilots. The training has been ongoing since Monday in readiness for 2017 elephant census in Tsavo-Mkomazi Ecosystem.
“There are changes in animal population due to land use through settlement. The wildlife is losing ground to communities,” he said as he also warned that the current drought might adversely affect the population.
His sentiments come in the wake of a noticeably gradual decline of big herbivores in Tsavo Conservation Area.
The 2014 elephant census shows that Tsavo recorded a jumbo population of 11,076. This was a 12 per cent drop from 2011 census which stood at 12,573 elephants in the same area.
Buffaloes have been declining at a higher rate than elephants. In 2014, wildlife count recorded 5,900 buffaloes. This was a 20 per cent decline from 7,402 buffaloes that were counted in 2011.
A joint 2011 study of the census by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and KWS had recommended a critical analysis on causes for the sharp decline of buffaloes in the ecosystem.
However, animals like giraffes and zebras saw their numbers rising gradually from 2,055 and 6,729 in 2011 to 2,981 and 9,007 in 2014 respectively.
Dr. Kanga termed the 2017 census as unique due to the number of factors that might drastically alter the normal patterns during previous census. He noted that the severe drought is likely to contribute to high wildlife mortality.
He also added that the massive and unprecedented influx of livestock in the park would also affect the wildlife count. The construction of Standard Gauge Railway SGR) and Voi-Taveta road is also expected to disrupt the normal distribution of animals in the park.
The shrinking of wildlife zones is projected to become a chronic issue in future as the population growth in areas around Tsavo national park exerts pressure on protected areas.
However, leaders in the region have stated that the decline of elephant numbers should not be blamed on population growth but on neglect by KWS.
Governor John Mruttu said the biggest threat to Tsavo National Park is from thousands of herds that are currently grazing in the park, noting the herds were clearing pastures and water for wildlife which ultimately would lead to death of wildlife.
“The herders in Tsavo will be the death of this park. With thousands of livestock eating what wildlife should eat, Tsavo is dying,” he said.
His sentiments were shared by Mr. Gamariel Mwangi, a conservation activist in Mwatate town.
He stated that ecosystem conflict had kicked in owing to little pasture left for wildlife by cattle. He noted that those weak wild animals that couldn’t migrate to areas untouched by livestock invasion were bound to perish. This includes the very young ones and the very aged.
“Cows have eaten everything. So the wildlife will have to keep on dying until their numbers can be sustained by the pasture left,” he said.
He rubbished claims on population explosion affecting wildlife noting that the parks and ranches were still roaming ground for buffaloes and elephants.
Elephant census is an exercise that take place after every 3-years in all protected ecosystems across the country. The exercise, which started in 1960?s is meant to provide baseline data to be used for bench-marking for subsequent censuses.
The data obtained is used for policy formulation, drafting a guideline for formation of wildlife management infrastructure and establishing a systematic way of mapping wildlife distribution inside the national parks.