Nairobi, September 1 – Kenya’s elephant population rose by 12 per cent from 32,214 in 2014 to 36,169 animals in 2021, according to newly released results of a wildlife census that has been under way since May this year. The growth represents a 1.75 per cent annual increase over the past seven years.

The year 2014 marked the peak of poaching in Kenya when the elephant population declined from 35,588 in 2012 to 32,214 elephants, according to the National Wildlife Census 2021 Report.

The elephant population growth was an indication that the government’s combat poaching were bearing fruit, the report noted.

The national giraffe population also recorded growth from about 23,000 animals in 2019 to about 34,240 animals in 2021, which represents about 49 per cent increase in three years. However, the increase in the giraffe population was attributed to the inclusion of more updated data of reticulated giraffe in northern Kenya (Wajir, Mandera, Garissa and Turkana Counties) in 2021.

Efforts to stiffen penalties on crimes related to threatened species appear to be succeeding, the report noted, and recommended that those efforts be sustained in the long-term to boost the conservation of those species.

The report identified three key buffalo ecosystems — Maasai Mara, Tsavo, Lake Nakuru National Park and the Laikipia-Samburu-Marsabit ecosystem. The Maasai Mara ecosystem recorded the highest population of buffalo in the country (n=11, 604 buffaloes), which represents about 28 per cent of the total buffalo population in Kenya. The Tsavo ecosystem holds 19 per cent all buffaloes in the country followed by Lake Nakuru National Park (15%) and Laikipia-Samburu-Marsabit ecosystem (15%). These four ecosystems account for about 78 per cent of Kenya’s total buffalo population.

Measures recommended in the report to sustain wildlife populations include veterinary interventions to control disease outbreaks, climate mitigation actions to reduce the impact of droughts on animals, enhanced security surveillance to prevent poaching for bush meat and the establishment of wildlife conservancies outside of protected areas.

Kenya’s sitatunga population – rare swamp-dwelling antelopes — stood at 473 out of which 424 and 49 individuals were recorded in Western and Central Rift Conservation Areas respectively. The sitatunga populations were found in unprotected wetlands across their range, according to the report. It was only in Saiwa Swamp National Park and Kitale Nature Conservancy where this species occur in a protected areas. The report stressed the need to engage with communities and county administrations where these species occur to explore options of making them acquire some conservation status.

Community conservancies and county reserves could be established in such range sites by communities and county governments with special attention paid to species with less than 100 individuals such as the roan and sable antelopes and the mountain bongo to enhance their conservation status.

The report also recommended interventions like developing predator-free sanctuaries and intensive management to save endangered and threatened species from local extinction. A special example that has proved the populations of such species can thrive is the hirola antelope in Ishaqbin Sanctuary their numbers continued to grow. The conservancy helped the national hirola population to grow and now stands at 497.

Options to import dwindling species from other wild and captive source sites outside Kenya should also be explored, according to the report. Such an effort would promote the revival of the species and genetic mixing to improve the survival of new progeny.

The report writers voiced concern over the influx of livestock into the key wildlife ecosystems such as Laikipia-Samburu-Meru-Marsabit, Tsavo, Maasai Mara and Lamu-Lower Garissa. They noted that that trend could affect the wildlife species negatively as their habitats become encroached and competition for resources (water, space and forage) increase.

Displacement of wildlife as a result of competition with livestock was observed in the Laikipia-Samburu-Marsabit-Meru ecosystem, where it is believed elephants had relocated to the hilly areas in the ecosystem, a factor that made it difficult for census teams to sight and count them leading to an overall recording of less population than was recorded in 2017. Such livestock incursions also fuel poaching as most herdsmen are armed, the report added.