Our Super Cub aircraft are instrumental in the battle against poaching in the Tsavo Conservation Area. They give us a unique view of the parks, a vantage that allows us to survey large areas. This is essential when monitoring energetic, migratory animals such as Elephants.
Those of you that have read some of our earlier articles about our conservation efforts will know about our aircraft. You may have read about the close bonds our pilots have formed with certain elephants. Sometimes we even feel as if a few recognise that we’re here to help.
What you might not know is what it is exactly that we are looking for and how it helps our ground teams and our partners at the Kenya Wildlife Service in the fight to conserve Africa’s most iconic animals.
Fact-finding and Looking for Signs of Extreme Weather
Whenever we fly, whatever the specific agenda that day, our pilots always have their eyes peeled. Whilst they are looking out for the Big Tuskers that we are trying to preserve, they will also take note of herd sizes, the locations of these herds and how close they are to water or to human settlements.
All of this information is important. It helps us build a picture of what these animals are up to and what we can do to help them stay out of harms way.
It is equally important that we monitor how Tsavo’s natural habitation area responds to the changing weather. This information can provide essential forewarning when it comes to predicting future conflict between animals and humans.
Drought often results in displacement and this used to be as true for humans as it is for animals. Nowadays, with improvements in irrigation, human farms often fare better than the wilds do when the rains come late. This can make farms a target for thirsty, hungry elephants.
Forewarning at-risk farms can be essential if we are to ensure a level-headed response to crop theft by desperate animals.
Our mission at the trust is to conserve the legacy of the Big Tuskers, the truly iconic elephants that have tusks so long they scrape the savannah brush beneath them. But we are constantly on the look-out for threats to all animal life, especially if its illegal poaching.
As such, our pilots always have their eyes peeled for these signs. Unfortunately, we can’t see snares from the sky but there are other signs we can look for. One of the most obvious of those is a poaching-related injury.
Spears and arrows are often used by poachers as well as by farmers to scare wildlife away from their crops. We are always vigilant for the marks of these weapons on any animals. If our air teams ever notice an animal acting strangely or physically suffering, they can call it in and we’ll quickly send a ground team out to intervene.
Unfortunately, most poaching is done under the cover of darkness. Occasionally, we wake in the morning, despite all our best efforts, to find carcasses.
As chilling as it is finding one of nature’s most majestic creatures amongst the dead, searching for carcasses is an important part of conservation. It can help give us a start point from where we can track those responsible and bring them to justice.
The carcass can also tell us a lot about why the animal was killed. If the tusks are missing then we can be confident that the illegal ivory trade shoulders the responsibility.
If the tusks haven’t yet been taken then most conservationists will do so themselves to remove the temptation from would-be ivory traders.
Rhino Flights and Monitoring Individuals
We spend a lot of time monitoring these animals. We get to know them, their habits and elements of their character. It’s truly amazing.
With all this interaction, between pilots and the Ellies, we inevitably learn when something is up with them. In fact, we keep a key eye for it. With Rhinos, because of their endangered status, one of things we always search for are the signs of pregnancy.
A pregnant Rhinoceros is great news for all those that are involved in conservation around Tsavo’s parks. If we see the signs then we at the Trust immediately inform the KWS and all of those concerned will try extra hard to offer the new mother the protection she needs.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to keep animals from walking into conflict with humans, we still have issues with stopping humans from marching proudly into their own conflicts.
Illegal cattle grazing is something we occasionally see in the Tsavo Conservation Area, and we try to stop it for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it puts an extra strain on the grasslands that are often precariously balanced as is. Secondly, it often results in the loss of life. The cattle herds tend to get taken into the parks at night and the herdsmen are known to lose a few to night-time hunting predators. This can result in retribution.
As such, if we see a herd or signs of one, we immediately inform the authorities. Occasionally, we’ll even try to shoo the herds out of the park with the sounds from our engines.