A regular conservation source in Nairobi confirmed that the long awaited 10 year plan of how the Kenya Wildlife Service intends to deal with elephant conservation over the next decade, has been released last weekend in the Kenyan capital. The Minister for Forestry and Wildlife Dr. Noah Wekesa officially presented the strategy document and was quoted to have said: The strategy provides a clear road map for the conservation and management of the elephant population in Kenya for the next 10 years. It outlines clear guidelines that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other conservation partners will use to protect the flagship species particularly in key strategic locations, such as dispersal areas, migration corridors and in the human-elephant conflict hotspots.
The minister went on to say the documents also seeks to increase the number of elephants at an annual rate of three percent, which would increase the current population of about 37,000 to about 50,000 by 2021 before continuing to add: In order to sustain this rate of increase, renewed and sustained efforts by all stakeholders will be required given the challenges of poaching and slow demographic variables resulting in low population growth rate. The strategy provides a framework to measure efforts with specific timelines in order to achieve the dream of a secure future for elephants and their habitats.
According to the KWS Executive Director Dr. Julius Kipngetich the range land for elephants was spread over 70 percent of the country way back in the 1960s, i.e. 50 years ago, when Kenyas population was around 8 million compared to about 38 million today. He also said that the highly mobile nature of elephants has complicated traditional conservation efforts as the animals require large ranges: The rapid human population growth and settlements which are encroaching on habitat suitable for elephants has led to conflict. There are currently over 300,000 small arms in the wrong hands in Kenya and this is contributing to poaching. Some poachers have even resorted to using poison arrows in order for them to avoid detection by the game wardens. The current available land held by government can only accommodate 50,000 elephants in a sustainable way and so the next option could be utilize the area in northern Kenya after extensive consultations [with local communities and
the conservation fraternity]. KWSs current budget of 61 million U.S. dollars is not sufficient to cover all programmes of elephant conservation and other stakeholders will [have to] provide additional funding. We have identified that conservancies managed by locals will increase the incentives for communities to value elephants and in the process reduce human wildlife conflict.
The newly launched strategy has a ten year validity / life span and defines short and medium term conservation goals. According to data available from past KWS press releases Kenya lost 278 elephants to poachers in 2011 compared to 177 in 2010, underscoring the need to be proactive and creative to reduce poaching and the smuggling of blood ivory and rhino horn for that matter while implementing the new plans. Stakeholders in the tourism industry have generally welcomed the new plans though sections of the conservation fraternity have raised a number of issues vis a vis the proposed new Wildlife Bill, which concerned them enough to demand for, and get, another round of stakeholder consultations.
Well done in the meantime to KWS for their commendable foresight and vision to not only keep conservation issues on the national agenda but also present solutions to the pressing problems of wildlife / human conflict, which is generally expected to intensify as a growing population keeps pushing into parts of Kenya previously not used for human settlements, and in the process displacing wildlife.