Results from the just-concluded six-day aerial census in the Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem show that the elephant population now stands at 12,572 up from 11,696 recorded in the last census in 2008. Though representing a modest 2% annual increase, it is very promising.

The census was co-funded by the KWS and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat and other stakeholders. The results help policymakers and park management make sound decisions on resource allocation for security operations and conflict management.

The 51-year-old exercise conducted this time by over 100 participants drawn from 4 countries was aimed at establishing the populations, trends and distribution of elephants as well as mapping out human activities inside and outside the protected areas.

Nine aircraft with GPS technology were used to cover the 46,437 square kilometres area. Other animals counted besides elephants in the Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem were buffalo, giraffe, wild dogs, rhino, eland and lion as well as large birds such as ostrich.

The census, conducted every 3 years because elephants give birth every 4 years, is part of a global elephant monitoring system which is a directive from the 173-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The results form the basis of wildlife trade-related decisions on the ivory trade.

Besides the 2009 drought which claimed many baby elephants and the rise in the demand for ivory and the subsequent rise in poaching, the elephant is now facing a new emerging challenge due to encroachment by humans on elephant habitat.

If this is not quickly addressed through proper land-use policies, the elephant might very well be an animal we hear in legend and folklore or read about in encyclopaedias!