By Jane Flanagan – The Times
Conservationists are heartened after an elephant with her young made a 50-mile trek across Kenyan terrain blighted by poaching and tribal clashes.
Koya, 23, is the first female to have moved between herds on the Samburu plains and the foothills of Mount Marsabit since monitoring began in northern Kenya.
Mothers travelling with their young are typically more averse to danger, so the trail taken by her herd through arid plains where elephants have been targeted for years was “significant”, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the British zoologist, said.
“We don’t know how Koya would have been aware of that route,” he said. “Perhaps it was an ancestral range but it is very encouraging that she felt it is now sufficiently secure. Once a trail has been set up, others may now follow her scent.”
Decades of demand for ivory has depleted most of Africa’s elephant populations, splitting them into smaller groups and shrinking the spaces where they feel safe to roam. Dr Douglas-Hamilton last recorded movement between Samburu and Marsabit 12 years ago by a lone male.
Regional conflict in northern areas of the state has compounded the dangers for elephants and other animals coveted for the illegal trade in wildlife. But 15 years of dogged work to end the ivory trade and build peace has had a positive effect.
Dr Douglas-Hamilton said that the creation of a regional wilderness area by the Northern Rangelands Trust, supported by Save the Elephants and the government, had given elephants a safer, expanded range.
Villages that were at war with one another have dedicated about three million acres of land to conservation. The number of elephants killed for their tusks has been halved in recent years. Last year half of all livestock thefts — a primary cause of local clashes — were recovered through mediation.
The trust employs more than 1,000 Kenyans to protect animals and police communities. Dozens of peace ambassadors have also been recruited.
Kenya has recorded an overall decline of 90 per cent in elephant and rhino poaching over the past seven years, though the pressure on the landscape, and conflict between humans and wildlife over land and water poses a threat.
Dr Douglas-Hamilton said: “As Koya shows us, community conservancies are providing vital space and hold the potential for further expansion of elephant range. With peace, security and good conservation work, elephants once fragmented by the ivory crisis are reconnecting.”