KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE DRIVES UP TO 1.000 ELEPHANT INTO TAITA HILLS AND TSAVO
A chance meeting with Samuel M. Rukaria, Community Warden for the Taita Hills area, allowed to get some intriguing insights of the challenges KWS and the communities living near the park boundaries of Tsavo East, Tsave West and the Taita Hills Conservancy are faced with.
Though scheduled to return a group of Kenyan journalists KWS had invited to witness the exercise back to Voi, Samuel took the time and answered some key questions on the combined air and ground operation, which was evident during the past days spent at the Sarova Taita Hills and Saltlick Lodges.
eTN Q: Why in the first place did up to 1.000 elephant escape from Tsavo West?
Samuel Rukaria A: Tsavo West is still suffering from very dry conditions after the long drought we had in Kenya. The elephant find little water and food and then try to use their old migration corridor towards Lake Jipe and across into Tanzania or up to the Taita Hills reserve to go look where they find pasture. The increase in population in former buffer zones has now caused increased human wildlife conflict when the elephant come out to search for food and water and therefore KWS was alerted to come to the assistance of the local people to drive the elephant back into safe zones.
eTN Q: How many were actually coming to the Taita Hills Conservancy and how many returned to Tsavo West, and how will that help when there is no food or water for them.
Samuel Rukaria A: First we think that as many as 800 elephant went to Taita Hills where they have water and food and space to give them enough range. About 200 went back to Tsavo West and we were quick to put immediately an electric fence up for which KWS had made preparations. We have also already started to dig for water which can then be pumped by wind or solar pumps to give the animals enough water. Now they cannot get out very easily and our patrols are monitoring them. When we are able to give enough water even during the dry periods and drought, the animals can find enough food in the end.
eTN Q: What manpower and equipment was needed for this exercise and how much did it cost KWS?
Samuel Rukaria A: KWS used one fixed wing aircraft for spotting, one helicopter to guide the elephant away from populated areas and we had 5 sections of 6 personnel each plus another 5 vehicles with staff working together. We concluded today but are still monitoring and KWS spent about 2 million Kenya Shillings here.
We think we accomplished our mission to maybe 95 percent even if the community may for some reasons have other opinions.
eTN Q: What are your biggest challenges in this area to deal with such and other problems caused by rampaging wildlife?
Samuel Rukaria A: We need to do more community sensitization on the need to also protect our wildlife because that is a resource for tourism. We are working with communities to promote changed farming methods and changing crops to for instance Alovera or beans instead of just maize which the elephant love. We have included latest research results and are helping communities with beehives which are now known to keep elephant at a safe distance and give communities income when they sell honey. We try to teach them to pool community land for wildlife conservancies and embrace eco tourism as a source of sustainable income and Kenyas Vision 2030 says it is agriculture and tourism which are the back bone of our economy. Some politicians are working with us and others just use us for negative propaganda but we are on the ground with the people and have learned what they need and relations are better when they see how KWS responds to emergency calls. We now help to protect crops, property and livestock and hope that by fencing crucial parts of the park boundaries we can achieve that.
At that stage did Mr. Rukaria have to rush off to return the local journalists to the town of Voi, excusing himself and taking his leave after having literally ambushed him on the way out of the Sarova Taita Hills Lodge. Thanks to a competent and committed conservation partner though for taking the time to talk to eTN about the challenges KWS faces in areas with growing human / wildlife conflicts.
Meanwhile did Mr. Willy Mwadilo, Sarovas General Manager for the two lodges, favourably comment on the operation and welcomed the news that as many as 800 more elephant had been driven into the 28.000+ acres Taita Hills Game Sanctuary as the conservancy is known, as in his words the added game sightings will undoubtedly enhance the safari experience of guests coming to the two lodges, on a classic Safari Inn with amenities like a Spa, swimming pool and tennis courts while the Saltlick Lodge is what can be termed a contemporary tree hotel, built on stilts and overlooking two water holes which in particular during the dry season are an assembly point for big and small game, birds and insects to the delight of visitors who are either perched in their seats up on the top level of the lodge or are at the ground floor level lounge to get a close up look of elephant, buffalo and often lions just 30 metres away. Watch this space and visit www.sarovahotels.com for more information on these two magnificent lodges and their private game reserve.