Written by Isa Chuki
The Kenyan and Tanzanian governments are jointly conducting a cross-border aerial wildlife census in the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro/ Magadi-Natron landscape.
The five-day exercise, which started on Monday (April 23, 2013) is a collaboration between the two countries and their agencies; Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Wildlife Division of Tanzania and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), together with affiliated Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Amboseli Trust for Elephants, School of Field studies Tanzania, Honey Guide foundation among others.
Ms. Anne Kahihia, KWS Assistant Director Southern Conservation Area, who spoke at the census opening ceremony, said it was about the only one where there is real integration between the two countries. This integration consisting of common planning, methodology used, joint reports and teams operating from a shared base
The aerial census seeks to establish the status of wildlife within the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro/ Magadi-Natron cross-border landscape which includes the elephant, wildebeest, zebra and other large mammal populations following the last total aerial count conducted in 2010 by the same team.
The 2010 census coverered 24,108 km2 area, including 8,797 km2 of the Amboseli ecosystem and 5,513 km2 of the Namanga-Magadi areas in south-western Kenya together with 3,014 km2 of the West Kilimanjaro and 7,047 km2 of the Natron areas in North Tanzania.
During the last survey, 25 wild mammalian and two avian species were counted. Zebras with a population of approximately 13,740 individuals was the most numerous wild species in the entire survey area followed by Grant’s gazelle (8,362), common wildebeest (7,240), Maasai giraffe (4,164), Eland (1,992), Maasai ostrich (1,461) and the African elephant (1,420) among other species.
From the last survey report, the elephant population has been relatively stable, with 1,087 individuals counted in the year 2000; 1,090 in 2002 and 967 in 2007 compared to the year 2010 population of 1,266. There was a dramatic decline in the number of large herbivore species between the years 2007 and 2010: wildebeest declined by about 83% from 18,538 to 3,098; zebra declined by about 71% from 15,328 to 4,432; and buffalo declined by about 61% from 588 to 231 in the Amboseli area.
In 2010, it was established that the then survey underpined the importance of the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro/ Magadi –Natron cross-border landscape as a wildlife conservation and dispersal area. While much of the wildlife species were found in the Amboseli area, high connectivity in terms of wildlife movement is inevitable.
According to Dr. Erastus Kanga, the KWS Head of Ecosystems and Landscapes Conservation, there has been trumendous developments in the entire Amboseli ecosystem over the last four decades. This is due to flactuating weather patterns, compounded by anthropogenic actitivities that have resulted to environmental degradation, and loss and contraction of corridors and dispersal areas, hence causing sporadic changes in wildlife populations.
Dr. Kanga further noted that, in instances of trans-boundary ecosystems, collaboration between national parks authorities and other stakeholders, towards enhanced management of shared natural resources is an important undertaking, in promoting regional information sharing for entire ecosystems and landscapes.
Key recommendations that were done then have been forthright seeing regular total aerial surveys to monitor wildlife populations in the region preferably a dry and a wet count once in every three years, to establish seasonal changes in numbers and distribution of wildlife.
The exercise, which has been funded by both KWS and AWF to the tune of US$ 104,000, seeks to safeguard the vast ecosystem that is threatened by human influence that includes pastoral activities, crop farming and proliferation of charcoal burning. This in a huge way affect wildlife dispersal and a huge concern to the future of the area for wildlife conservation.