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What next after the wildlife census?

By January 4, 2022Conservation

Save the Elephants pilot Miles Geldard confirms with an observer on the transect routes to cover before embarking on the census at an airstrip in Mpala Centre on July 3. Image: As originally published by The Star.

Gilbert Koech, The Star | December 31, 2021


The government conducted a national wildlife census this year.

The census covering both the land and aquatic wildlife was launched on May 7 by Tourism CS Najib Balala at Shimba Hills National Reserve in Kwale county.

The Sh250 million drive was fully funded by the government and was executed by the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the newly created Wildlife Research and Training Institute.

The census report showed that Kenya has 36,280 savanna elephants, which is the fourth-largest population in the world after Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania.

The elephants, according to the report, are spread across 13 ecological units which include protected areas and adjacent community areas.

The units form the five main contiguous elephant ranges as highlighted in the previous strategy.

These include the northern coast (the Tsavo-Chyulu-Amboseli Kilimanjaro complex), the Aberdare (Mt Kenya-Laikipia-Samburu-Northern Area complex), the Nguruman (Mara Serengeti complex) and Nasolot-Rimoi-Kerio Valley.

The Tsavo ecosystem accounts for more than 37 per cent of the national elephant range, which is estimated at 49,000km2. It is followed by the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem with 37,937km2.

The Mara and Amboseli West Kilimanjaro ecosystems accounted for 11,681km2 and 37,937km2 respectively.

Tsavo ecosystem hosts the largest wild elephant population of 14,879, representing a density of 0.33 jumbos per km2.

The Laikipia-Samburu-Marsabit ecosystem had the second-highest population with 6,950 elephants–a density of 0.2 elephants per km2.

Aberdare Conservation area dung count was 4,019, while Amboseli ecosystem individual registration was 1,887.

The Laikipia-Samburu-Marsabit had 6,867 while the Maasai Mara ecosystem had 2,595 jumbos.

“The elephant range area has continually increased in Kenya in the last two decades. This has been mainly due to changes in the aerial census blocks to incorporate areas where other monitoring approaches have generated new knowledge on elephant presence,” the report said.

It showed there was an interaction between the Tsavo, Amboseli, and Mara ecosystems, hence the need to expand the elephant census blocks for the respective ecosystems.

The report showed that the elephant range extends beyond the protected prea, heightening human-elephant conflicts.

Overall, there has been a more than 2.6 per cent annual population increase since 1989.


The groundbreaking census established that the country is home to 1,739 rhinos, among them two northern white rhino species, 897 black rhinos, and 840 southern white rhinos.

Kenya, the report said, has the third-largest population of rhinos in Africa after South Africa and Namibia.

By the end of 2020, the country had a rhino population of 1,605. It accounted for 853 black rhinos, 750 southern white rhinos, and two northern white rhinos.

Kenya is implementing the sixth edition of the Black Rhino Action Plan (2017-2021) which seeks to have a meta-population of at least 2,000 black rhinos of the eastern African subspecies.

The overall goal of the strategy is to achieve a meta-population of 830 black rhinos by the end of 2021.

The country’s black rhinos are conserved in nine states, four private, one county and one community land across the country.

The census report said the rhino population grew by 7.7 per cent with the national population estimated at 1,739 individuals (897 black, 840 southern white, and two northern white) as of July 31, 2021.

This is in comparison to 1,605 rhinos (853 black, 750 southern white, and 2 northern white) as of December 31, 2020.

The census report showed that Solio Ranch has the single largest population of white rhinos. It hosts 58 per cent of the national white population and is one of the highest rhino densities in the world at 6.99 rhinos per km2.

The report said the national black rhino population has gradually increased and more than doubled to the current population estimate of 897 individuals, while the southern white rhino increased from the founder population of 51 individuals introduced from South Africa to the current population estimate of 840.

This has been a modest growth rate despite the global poaching spike experienced from 2008 to 2014 with a peak of 59 rhinos poached in 2013.

In the last 15 years, 249 rhinos have been killed, mainly due to illegal demand for their horns.

In 2020, no rhino was poached.

Currently, only two female northern white rhinos are still surviving in the world at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy.

Attempts to save the Northern White Rhino (NWR) through natural processes have not been successful.

The report said 64 rhino calves were reported in July 2021–38 black and 26 white rhinos.


Buffalo is one of the most abundant and widely distributed species in Kenya and among the big five iconic species.

During the census, only those in the open savannah ecosystem were counted using the aerial total count method in 14 sites.

The number of buffaloes counted was 41,659 animals.

The Maasai Mara ecosystem recorded the highest number of buffaloes in the country (11,604), representing 28 per cent of the total population.

This is followed by the Tsavo ecosystem (19 per cent), Lake Nakuru National Park (15 per cent), and then the Laikipia-Samburu-Marsabit ecosystem (15 per cent).

The four ecosystems account for about 78 per cent of total Kenya’s buffalo population.

Small isolated populations of buffaloes were observed in Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park (23), Shimba Hills National Reserve (23), Athi-Kapiti ecosystem (30) and Mwea National Reserve (69).

The data shows an increase of more than 67 per cent since 2014.


The lion population has been on the decline for the past two decades.

In 2002, there were 2,749 lions, but their population declined to 2,280 by 2004. It dropped further to 1,970 in 2008.

Concerted conservation efforts have led to a gradual recovery of the population to the current estimate of 2,589 individuals.

What next?

Conservationists have raised the alarm over rampant land subdivision that is breaking large community-owned lands into thousands of privately-owned parcels.

Africa Wildlife Foundation country director Nancy Githaiga said land subdivision would pose a problem to the conservation agenda.

“Even if the land is subdivided, it is important to have proper land use plans. Our Constitution asks counties to develop county spatial plans. These are plans that would have been very useful as they define what goes on in one area and the other,” she said.

Githaiga said since poaching has been reduced, the increase in the wildlife population comes with challenges.

“The habitat where they live is not expanding, the land is still the same, people are settling in areas where we have corridors,” Githaiga said.

“What is it that we need to do differently? How will communities benefit from wildlife as a form of land use so that instead of bringing up agriculture on this land, they can also benefit from wildlife?”

Githaiga said the value that communities get from conservation needs consideration even as the numbers grow.

“We are also looking at climate change and the changing ecosystems. The areas that have water in the park did not have it some years ago. This means that the habitat is also changing,” she said.

Githaiga said corridors must be left open for wildlife to move from one place to the other.

Conservation Alliance of Kenya CEO Steve Itela said counties need to put their houses in order.

He said migration of wildlife is an entire ecological process, which helps move nutrients, creates biodiversity and interlinkages between habitats and promotes resilience to climate change.

Itela said wildlife migrate in long-established patterns over short or long distances.

But their migratory corridors and habitats have been encroached on.

Itela urged the government to implement the report on corridors that was launched in 2017. The report identified 58 migratory routes and corridors.

It called for the mapping and securing of wildlife corridors as a strategy for reducing human-wildlife conflict and promoting environmental sustainability and equitable social development.

Read the original story here.