Elephant conservation is a vocation that never ends. Our team on the ground, composed of rangers who work closely with KWS, and our aerial team who have clocked thousands of hours in the Super Cub aircraft, are constantly on the job, making sure that Tsavo’s elephants and other wildlife are given around-the-clock protection.
All these clocked hours make for quite an interesting review. Over the years, since our inception in 2013, we have logged as much data as we possibly can, and we use this data to learn more about elephant conservation and what we can do to improve our operations.
Amazingly, since 2013, we at the Trust have covered an astonishing 1.3 million kilometres. That is 34 times around the world! In this article, we dissect some of the key statistics relating to elephant conservation and discuss what these statistics mean for us, and for the Tsavo Conservation Area.
Back in 2013, our first year of operations, our aerial reconnaissance team spent 383 hours in the air and covered 46,685 kilometres. The year after that, those numbers had nearly doubled. (515 hours and 61,931 kilometres.) These numbers have increased in a similar vein every year and reflect our growing influence and importance to the Tsavo Conservation Area.
In 2019, we had our most active year yet and our aerial team spent 927 hours in the air, covering 105,716 kilometres. Unfortunately, due to the difficulties caused by the ongoing pandemic, we were forced to rein in operations in 2020. Our reliance on donations and tourism means that we have been unable to maintain our supplies of Avgas.
We are hopeful for a return to normal operations soon so we can continue doing important work and covering more and more terrain, monitoring and protecting wildlife from the skies. We cannot stress enough the importance of donations for our vital service.
The statistics are similar for our ground patrol teams. Back in 2013, we had no boots on the ground, our entire operation was conducted in the air. We relied heavily on KWS to coordinate elephant conservation. Since then, we have formed multiple protection and monitoring teams. In 2019, we had the benefit of 4 protection teams and 2 monitoring teams.
The results that matter
Although it is nice to see in numbers how our operations are growing and our influence is spreading across the TCA, the only numbers that matter are those that concern the wildlife, and specifically, the elephants.
Unfortunately, due to rampant poaching, the number of super tusker bulls in the TCA has decreased since we started in 2013. There were 11 in 2013 and in 2020, there were 10. However, this does not tell the whole story. Although when we started there were 11, the number dropped as low as 8 in 2018 and 2019 and has since climbed back up to 10 – a clear sign of progress.
The number of super tuskers, although important, is not a good way of measuring our progress. It takes years for a young bull to develop into a super tusker and they face many threats during their development. A better indication of our progress is the number of emerging tusker bulls that can be found in the TCA. Back in 2013, there were just 6. In 2020, we counted 33: that’s a 550% increase in 7 years! Our plan is to provide these emerging bulls with as much protection as our funds will allow and hopefully see them develop into Tsavo’s next great generation of ‘super tuskers’.
Our growing partnership with KWS
The Kenya Wildlife Service are the main organisation promoting and pursuing conservation. They set the policy and define the framework for elephant conservation, and it is our job to help and support them in putting the policy into action.
They do fantastic work and much of the progress in elephant conservation must be attributed to them. At Tsavo Trust, we are privileged to work with such a goal-oriented organisation. Since our inception, our relationship with the good men and women over at KWS has grown and grown and the statistics are there to prove this.
In 2013, we sent 113 written reports to KWS. In 2014, this number had more than doubled (236). By 2017, we were sending over 500 reports to KWS and this number peaked in 2019, our busiest year yet, when we sent 841 written reports to our counterparts. That’s more than 2 a day!
As you might have guessed, this number dipped slightly in 2020 due to a reduction in operations and staff but we fully expect to return to normal operations once this pandemic is over.
The importance of donations
This article has provided a snapshot into the development of the Trust and should illustrate the future of this organisation, and the dedication we have to elephant conservation. However, what has become clear to us through our statistical analysis is the importance of donations during this pandemic.
We simply cannot maintain our regular operations unless we are supported by elephant and wildlife lovers across the world. Donations, however big or small, are vital towards paying for ranger salaries and keeping our SuperCub aircraft in the air where they can monitor the old and emerging ‘super tuskers.’