Emma Ledger, The Independent | May 3, 2021
Times of crisis can bring out the best in humanity. Amid so much financial loss and uncertainty, you, the readers of The Independent, have astounded us with your generosity in supporting our Stop The Illegal Wildlife campaign.
The Independent launched the campaign one year ago in response to the impact it was feared the pandemic would have on conservation.
Experts warned of a large uptick in the slaughter of animals as poachers took advantage of reduced protection measures, and of an ensuing irreversible threat to biodiversity.
The Independent joined forces with conservation charity Space for Giants to understand the issues on the ground, and to help raise money and channel it where it is most needed to protect wildlife at risk due to the conservation funding crisis.
Recently, funds given by readers of The Independent helped to coordinate the use of helicopters and vehicles to move a large number of elephants to safety, away from farm land, in north central Kenya.
Crops are now many families’ sole source of food and income since COVID-19 devastated livelihoods and cost many their jobs. Elephants who continuously raid or trample crops are therefore considered a pest that farmers must protect their livelihoods against. Human-elephant conflict is a growing problem in increasingly human dominated landscapes, such as north central Kenya.
Space for Giants’ Human-Elephant Coexistence team joined the Kenya Wildlife Service [KWS] to coordinate the ‘drive’ to move several herds of elephants away from farmland and into a conservation area.
Led by Maurice Schutgens, Space for Giants’ Conservation Programme Manager, the drive saw 49 elephants moved beyond the electrified West Laikipia Elephant Fence, which was purpose-built by the charity in partnership with the Laikipia County Government, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Leopardess Foundation.
“Pushing known crop-raiding elephants behind specially designed electric fences helps alleviate conflict with smallholder farmers and helps to improve food security – something which is critical in a COVID-19 world,” says Schutgens.
“Moving elephants by helicopter is a risky exercise, for both people on the ground if they find themselves inadvertently caught in the path that elephants are being moved, and also for the animals because it creates a huge amount of stress.
“Such an exercise has to be carefully planned and executed with support from the local authorities, with constant evaluation of the risks, safety of people and welfare of the elephants. It’s a delicate balancing act.”
The successful elephant drive was made possible thanks in part to the support of The Independent’s Stop The Illegal Wildlife campaign.
The elephants are now safe from retaliatory attacks by farmers, happily roaming behind the 144km West Laikipia Elephant Fence, which protects the livelihoods of 215,000 farmers and 106,750 acres of smallholder farms.
However Space for Giants will continue to monitor the herd’s movements using data from GPS collars fitted to seven bull elephants, and further drives may be necessary to protect them if elephants find ways to break through the fence.
Space for Giants was born from pioneering research into the experiences of both elephants and people living together in the shared landscape in north central Kenya, and strives to help them coexist while protecting the habitats wildlife depend on.
Alongside constructing fences to prevent human-elephant conflict, building law enforcement capacity and innovative conservation research across the nine African countries in which it works, Space for Giants has expanded its role to support local people and governments in finding value in conservation management, using and holistic approach to effectively implement and maintain its work. They can only continue to protect wildlife with your support.