Kenya, Tanzania in joint wildlife aerial census

Elephants graze at the Amboseli National Park, Kenya, May 13, 2012. In the background is a spectacular view of Mount Kilimanjaro.    (Xinhua/Ding Haitao)
Elephants graze at the Amboseli National Park, Kenya, May 13, 2012. In the background is a spectacular view of Mount Kilimanjaro. (Xinhua/Ding Haitao)  

The Kenyan and Tanzanian governments are jointly conducting a five-day cross-border aerial wildlife census in the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro/Magadi-Natron landscape.

The exercise seeks to establish the status of wildlife within the cross-border landscape which includes the elephant, wildebeest, zebra and other large mammal populations following the last total aerial count conducted in 2010 by the same team.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Assistant Director Southern Conservation Area, Anne Kahihia, who spoke at the census opening ceremony on Wednesday, said it was about the only one where there is real integration between the two countries.

"This integration consisting of common planning, methodology used, joint reports and teams operating from a shared base," Kahihia said.

The exercise, which has been funded by both KWS and African Wildlife Fund (AWF) to the tune of 104,000 U.S. dollars, aims to safeguard the vast ecosystem that is threatened by human influence that includes pastoral activities, crop farming and proliferation of charcoal burning.

The wildlife agency has been carrying out regular aerial census every three years in the Amboseli Ecosystem, the last being carried out in 2007.

This year's census is particularly crucial given that the park's ecosystem was hard hit by the climate change as well as poaching which led to massive deaths of zebra, elephants, and buffaloes and wildebeest.

The census will also include observations on habitat degradation, water distribution, livestock numbers, human settlement patterns and illegal activities, including logging.

The 2010 census covered an area of 24,108 square km, including 8,797 square km of the Amboseli ecosystem and 5,513 square km of the Namanga-Magadi areas in south-western Kenya together with 3, 014 square km of the West Kilimanjaro and 7,047 square km of the Natron areas in North Tanzania.

During the last survey, 25 wild mammalian and two avian species were counted. Zebra with a population of about 13,740 individuals was the most numerous wild species in the entire survey area followed by Grant's gazelle (8,362), common wildebeest (7,240), Maasai giraffe (4,164), Eland (1,992), Maasai ostrich (1,461) and the African elephant (1,420) among other species.

From the last survey report, the elephant population has been relatively stable, with 1,087 individuals counted in the year 2000; 1,090 in 2002 and 967 in 2007 compared to the year 2010 population of 1,266.

There was a dramatic decline in the number of large herbivore species between the years 2007 and 2010. The number of wildebeest declined by about 83 per cent from 18,538 to 3,098, and that of zebra declined by about 71 per cent from 15,328 to 4,432 in the Amboseli area.

According to Dr. Erastus Kanga, the KWS Head of Ecosystems and Landscapes Conservation, there have been tremendous developments in the entire Amboseli ecosystem over the last four decades.

"This is due to fluctuating weather patterns, compounded by anthropogenic activities that have resulted to environmental degradation, and loss and contraction of corridors and dispersal areas, hence causing sporadic changes in wildlife populations," he said. (Xinhua)