NAIROBI, March 18 (Swara) – In 1994, the world recoiled in horror when four distinguished elephants, subjects of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, fell to the bullets of trophy hunters on the Tanzanian side of the border. This tragedy sparked international outrage, leading to a moratorium on trophy hunting for the cross-border elephant population agreed upon by nations in 1995. However, recent events have reignited concerns for the welfare of these majestic creatures.

Reports from late 2023 confirmed the shooting of two adult male elephants, each bearing tusks weighing over 100 lbs., in Tanzania, effectively ending a three-decade-long trophy hunting ban. Adding to the distress, a third elephant met a similar fate in late February 2024. As of March 10 this year, three additional licences have allegedly been granted, raising alarm bells and jeopardizing the integrity of the Amboseli elephant population, according to a press release issued by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants

The Amboseli elephant population is a cross-border community inhabiting Kenya and Tanzania. It encompasses the Amboseli National Park, surrounding conservancies, and lands in Kenya, spanning approximately 8,000 km². On the Tanzanian side, the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area and beyond lie. This ecosystem hosts around 2,000 elephants and has been the subject of meticulous Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) study for over five decades.

Each elephant within this population is meticulously documented, with individual identification codes or names and extensive photographic records. The AARP’s database, which has been in existence for over half a century, meticulously records the births, deaths, and sightings of over 4,000 individuals, forming an invaluable repository of knowledge on elephant behaviour, communication, social structure, and genetics.

The Amboseli population, comprising 63 elephant families, regularly traverses the border into Tanzania, with 17 families and approximately 365 members spending significant time there. Around 30 adult male elephants utilize the Enduimet area in Tanzania as part of their home range. These areas serve as crucial habitats for older males during their “bulking up” phase before returning to central Amboseli for reproductive activities.

Research, including satellite tracking by experts like Iain Douglas Hamilton and Alfred Kikoti, demonstrates the fluid movement of elephants across borders, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the cross-border population. Furthermore, the Amboseli elephants boast some of the most enormous tusks on the continent, owing to genetic factors and years of protection from hunting and poaching.

However, the recent resumption of trophy hunting threatens not only individual elephants but also the genetic future of the Amboseli population. Older males, targeted by hunters for their large tusks, play crucial roles in elephant society as primary breeders. By selecting these individuals, hunters disrupt elephant society’s delicate balance and diminish large tuskers’ gene pool.

Advocates for elephant conservation call for urgent action to safeguard the Amboseli cross-border population from trophy hunting. They emphasize the scientific significance of this population and its unique genetic heritage, advocating for alternative conservation measures to ensure its perpetual protection. The plea is directed towards the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments to collaborate in preserving this invaluable natural heritage, shielding it from the grasp of trophy hunters and securing its status as a global treasure.

As international attention focuses again on the plight of the Amboseli elephants, the imperative for concerted conservation efforts has never been more apparent.