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Africa Focus: Global conservationists step up fight against poaching in Kenya

By Chris Mgidu

NAIROBI, May 31 (PNA/Xinhua) — International conservationists have resorted to the use of science to help preserve elephants in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya amid rising poaching in the East African nation.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), The School for Field Studies (SFS) and Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) have inked a five-year partnership to help preserve 1,400 elephants which spend about 80 percent of their time outside the national park.

"The IFAW-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," said Dr. Moses Makonjio Okello, Senior Director of The SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Okello who leads the five-year project said on Thursday the partnership will see scientists, researchers, and veterinarians tracking elephant populations around the park to determine their needs for space and resources, and ultimately help prevent human- elephant conflict.

"Elephants need space and resources in order to be free, viable and to fulfill the flagship role they play in East Africa," said Okello.

"It is a fact that Amboseli's 1,400 elephants spend up to 80 percent of their time outside the national park," said James Isiche, Director of IFAW East Africa said on Thursday.

"They roam in the surrounding Maasai group ranches, and are known to cross over into Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, and wander south over the border into Tanzania as far as Kilimanjaro National Park."

Isiche said the initial step of the project began two months ago with the radio collaring of six elephants (four male and two female), to be monitored for at least the next two years to provide critical information on elephant movement patterns within and outside of Amboseli.

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

"We will be able to make a case for the connection of their favored habitats by securing critical corridors and securing the areas Amboseli that are essential for sustaining Amboseli's rich wildlife heritage, especially the elephants."

The IFAW-SFS 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.

The study is also a component of the SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies Five Year Research Plan, or roadmap, which examines how land use and resource availability in the Amboseli ecosystem can be managed to foster the well-being of local communities as well as safeguard biodiversity conservation.

"With this information, scientists will be able to establish the elephants' preferred habitats and why certain areas are chosen above others, and the threats that the elephants face," Isiche said.

He added that the information will enable the team to make clear recommendations that will be used to safeguard elephant herds for the long term.

Conservationists said rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Kenya in particular and Africa as a whole with over 1,000 rhinos having been killed on the continent in the last 18 months.

The KWS has enhanced the round-the-clock surveillance at all Kenya's entry exit and entry points while sniffer dogs and their handlers have proved incorruptible and have once again outsmarted the smugglers.

The East African nation says it's at a point where it cannot allow further poaching of wildlife because the animal numbers have been reducing at an alarming rate.

Most recent statistics from the KWS for instance indicated that the number of elephants for instance has reduced from a high of 160,000 in 1970s to below 30,000.

KWS said between the 1970s and 1980s Kenya lost over 80 percent of her elephants, mainly due to intensive poaching of elephants for ivory.

The East African nation has lost 21 rhinos and 117 elephants to poachers since the beginning of 2013. Out of these elephants, he said, 37 were killed in protected areas while 80 were outside protected areas.

Kenya lost 289 elephants to poaching in 2011 and another 384 elephants in 2012.

Lion is also one of the most endangered animals not only in Kenya but across Africa. Kenya has an estimated 1,800 lions, down from 2,800 in 2002. The country had 30,000 lions in the 1960s, KWS data revealed.

The elephants horns are sawn off and ground into a powder which is taken as a curative in most countries in Asia, despite no scientific evidence of medicinal properties.

KWS said the poaching situation calls for a united approach that will not only facilitate the capture of those involved in wildlife crime, but also enhance prosecution of the illegal killing and trafficking of wildlife.

Last week, Parliament approved stiffer penalties for poachers to help tackle the on-going poaching crisis including fines up to 120,000 U.S. dollars and 15 years in jail. (PNA/Xinhua)


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