Thomas Bywater, NZ Herald | October 10, 2021
When people were first predicting a 2020 baby boom, the Maasai Mara was probably not front of mind. Kenya has reported a bumper year for elephant births.
200 elephants were born in Kenya’s national parks last year. The country’s cabinet secretary for Tourism and Wildlife has described the births as “Covid gifts” during a difficult time for park tourism.
Kenya announced the births along with the results of its first ever wildlife census.
Part of the role of the newly formed Wildlife Research and Training Institute is conducting an annual census, to create a baseline for measuring the ecological health of the 23 National Parks.
Measuring 14 key species, the report counts the national population of animals including giraffes, three types of antelope and waterfowl.
However African savanna elephants are perhaps the largest and most iconic of the species. The slow breeding savanna elephants Loxodonta africana are greatly affected by any changes in population. They are listed as “endangered” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
They are big but susceptible to the threats of poaching, extreme weather and threat of habitat.
The 22-month-long gestation period means that regrowing the population of elephants is a slow process. However the national census shows that the animals are turning a corner.
Over the past thirty years, Kenya’s Wildlife Service has seen the wild elephant population increase from 16000 in 1989 to 36,280 by 2020.
The overall population of elephants had grown 12 per cent in the past three years, with the giraffe population almost doubling to 34240 (a 49 per cent increase).
The battle against poaching was also recording victories.
In February the Kenyan Wildlife Service reported that no Rhinos were lost to poaching.
This rare win for the animals not seen since 1999 said KWS Director John Waweru, with poaching incidents spiking in 2013 to 59 animals.
KWS also reported a curb in elephants poached, saying they saw a drop “from a high of 384 cases in 2012 when poaching was at its peak to a record low of 11 in 2020, the lowest ever in KWS history.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta praised the move to keep track of the country’s unique species and “natural wealth that makes us a conservation and tourism destination second to none”.
“This national endeavour is a historic opportunity to develop an annotated inventory of our wildlife resources, in recognition of their place as strategic national assets,” he said.