Skip to content

Is conservation working?

Conservation is the careful maintenance and upkeep of a natural resource to prevent it from disappearing. For much of human history, natural resources were so abundant, and humanity’s impact on ecosystems so negligible, that conservation was not required on a major scale.

It is only within relatively recent years that humanity recognised its influence on the natural world and began to safeguard ecosystems. As various forms of biodiversity protection have been put in place for a number of years we can begin to answer the question: Is conservation working?

To answer this question, we must look into the current state of protected areas globally and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation strategies, with a particular focus on one of the world’s most emblematic animals, the African savannah elephant.

A brief history of conservation

One of the earliest recorded conservation movements dates back to 1662 in England when John Evelyn recognised the imminent depletion of tree resources and advocated for a conservation program. Since then, various conservation initiatives were formalised in governments across the globe, largely to protect private or state financial interests.

The first form of conservation in Kenya was established to restrict rampant elephant hunting. Interestingly, it was actually established by the hunters themselves, specifically the East African Professional Hunter’s Association. The organisation hoped to control the number of elephants that could be hunted at any one time.

Although, it was a policy based in greed and racism, as the hunters wanted to safeguard hunting for the rich and privileged, it was the first push towards elephant conservation within East Africa.

The current state of conservation

Conservation efforts worldwide have become increasingly vital as human activities continue to encroach upon natural habitats, posing threats to biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

Humans have almost completely dominated the world’s landscapes. Livestock and human populations account for a staggering 96% of the world’s mammal biomass, while a mere 4% is made up of wild mammals, such as elephants and whales.

It is only within a small proportion of protected areas that wildlife are able to survive and thrive. Presently, terrestrial protected areas make up 13% of the Earth’s surface, with marine reserves trailing at 8%.

It is clear that despite an increasingly global recognition for protecting natural resources, humanity still dominates the world, and wildlife has been relegated to small peripheral areas.

In Kenya, around 8% of the land is considered protected areas for wildlife.  This land is made up of 411 protected areas covering 72,545 km2 of land and 904 km2 of the ocean.

The Tsavo Conservation Area, the area we strive to protect here at Tsavo Trust, is a complex of protected and other wildlife areas in southern Kenya and north-eastern Tanzania and actually makes up almost half of Kenya’s total protect areas.

It is composed of Tsavo East National Park, Tsavo West National Park, Chyulu Hills National Park, South Kitui National Reserve, ranches in Galana, Taita, Kulalu and Amboseli and adjacent private and communal lands.

The Tsavo Conservation Area comprises an area of around 42,000 km2, of which over 25,000 km2 is protected.

Is elephant conservation working?

According to the most comprehensive analysis of elephant growth rates to date, conducted in the Southern heartlands of Africa, elephant conservation is working. In fact, throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, elephant populations have stabilised or began to increase.

The study found that the best form of conservation protection is the establishment of well connected core protected areas. Essentially, the strategy established conservation “fortresses” where robust wildlife protection can be established. These “fortress” parks can then be surrounded by open buffer zones, allowing animals to migrate and disperse in response to changes in environmental conditions.

However, as many more people live in the buffer areas. It requires careful coordination and planning to minimise conflicts with the elephants, which can kill people and destroy crops. It is also paramount to promote livelihoods of the people within the buffer zones, where they can thrive and flourish alongside their large pachyderm neighbours.

Tsavo’s successful strategy

The Tsavo Conservation Area, and much of Kenya itself, is serving as an important example of the balance of conservation and human development.

Although, human-wildlife conflict and poaching are still dynamic and changing issues that require unwavering attention. Kenya has successfully adopted the connected wildlife fortress conservation strategy to the benefit of wildlife and humans alike.

Aerial surveys conducted within the Tsavo Conservation Area between 2014 and 2017 unveil a heartening 14.7% increase in elephant populations.

Presently, elephant populations will be able to enjoy robust protection within the Tsavo National Parks, where populations can grow and flourish within a well maintained protected area.

The strategy also allows for elephants to disperse into the surrounding environments, perhaps travelling through the Chyulu Hills towards Amboseli and the plains abounding Mt Kilimanjaro.

Within the buffer zones, where the likelihood of human-wildlife conflict increases, it is important to facilitate protection for human populations including protecting their livelihoods.

Here at Tsavo Trust, we have provided Kamungi Conservancy with the means to protect their crops, through the 10% fence plan, as well as training locals to protect the community from wildlife. Not only does this provide valuable employment but it allows for a mutually beneficial, harmonious existence between elephant and man.

Hope for the future

Despite a growing human population, which coincides with increased urban development and increases in agricultural land use, there has been a global recognition of the importance of protecting land for wildlife. This comes in the form of the 30×30 policy.

This ambitious commitment aims to safeguard 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, garnering support from over 190 countries. It heralds a monumental step forward in global conservation efforts.

In dissecting the question “Is elephant conservation working?” it’s evident that progress is palpable, especially for African savannah elephants. The southern heartlands of Africa are experiencing elephant population stabilisation and studies are starting to piece together the most effective conservation strategy, in the form of a well-connected “fortress” protection area.

For Kenya, and the genetically important super-tusker populations of Tsavo and Amboseli, the future is bright. With promising initiatives to promote coexistence between humans and wildlife flourishing.

The 30×30 initiative also offers hope for bolstering protected areas globally. However, challenges persist, demanding adaptive strategies and concerted global cooperation. As we navigate the complexities of conservation, one thing remains certain: the fate of wildlife and ecosystems hinges on our collective resolve to preserve and protect the natural world.

If you would like to learn more about how you can support conservation efforts in Kenya through the Tsavo Trust, follow this link.

Back To Top