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What are the major threats facing elephant conservation?

African savannah elephant, and their present ‘endangered’ conservation status, faces myriad threats. Here in Kenya, where the history of wildlife conservation is longer and more storied than many other African countries, we have spent many years coming to terms with and understanding these threats.

As regular readers will know, nation-wide conservation efforts here in Kenya are now to be informed by a new National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP). This document, which was compiled under the banner of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Ministry for Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage, leant on the information gleaned from interviews with many of elephant conservation’s stakeholders.

Using stakeholder interviews – with NGOs, wildlife researchers, local landowners – the document is well-placed to summarise what those concerned consider as the greatest threats facing elephant.

What are the biggest threats facing elephant conservation in Tsavo?

Alongside the testimonies given by conservation professionals and landowners local to elephant rangelands, the NEAP used aerial and ground reconnaissance teams to assess present and future threats to elephant in their existing, available habitat.

In the Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA), the NEAP considers that the greatest threats to elephant conservation can be linked by themes.

The first theme, development in and around the TCA reflects dangers to elephant that find themselves on the fringes of protected areas. In Tsavo specifically, the NEAP notes that the issuance of land titles to would-be ranchers or farmers is a big threat to the current rangeland of elephant.

So too is the continued existence of, and proposed development around, Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway: the Madaraka Expressway. The NEAP suggests at the dangers of government proposed plans to develop the area along the railway. The railway presently cuts through the TCA and, alongside the Mombasa Road, it cuts Tsavo East National Park from Tsavo West.

These developments have long been the cause for some concern amongst conservationists.

Another theme of concern for elephant conservation in Tsavo relates to dangers within existing protected areas. The NEAP notes that arson-caused bush fires are a huge danger in this dry, arid and, recently, rain-parched lands. Invasive species entering into these areas are a similar problem.

The NEAP does not state what is meant by ‘invasive species’ but we know, from our own aerial reconnaissance, of the near daily assault of cattle herders who drive their herds into protected areas in search of fodder or water.

The third threat to conservation in Tsavo is one shared by all protected areas along the southern border of Kenya. The NEAP makes reference to ‘informal’ relationships and conservation strategy collaborations that Kenya’s conservation professionals have with Tanzania’s.

The informality of these collaborative efforts, it is suggested, undermines a nation-wide plan such as is proposed by the NEAP.

What are the other threats, for Kenya as a whole?

The NEAP considers that there are further ‘cross-cutting’ issues that faces elephant conservation across the country.

These include the need to develop greater data collection capacity and systems; the need to find a better balance of conservational and developmental needs; need to better understand the scale (and cost) of conservation efforts; and, amongst other concerns, the need to boost community engagement in conservation.



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