Elephants putting strain on Kenya's ecosystem - report


ELEPHANTS ARE destroying Kenya’s national parks, trampling woodland and putting other species at risk, according to a new report.

The giant mammals need vast areas of land to graze and trying to protect them inside parks is putting a strain on the rest of the ecosystem.

The finding is part of a study that discovered Kenya’s famous wild animal population is dying off at the same rate inside protected parks as outside – 40 per cent in 20 years.

Kenyan scientists concluded that a radical review of the country’s conservation policies was needed and that open spaces around the country’s network of wildlife havens need to be better protected.

Dr David Western, founder of the African Conservation Centre in Nairobi, said the practice of protecting elephants from poachers inside national parks had changed the local ecology.

“Elephants need a lot of space,” said Dr Western. “They move around. But now that they have been limited to smaller areas, they’re taking out the woody vegetation and reducing the overall biodiversity in the national parks.

“We’re seeing throughout our parks in Kenya a change from woody habitats to grassland habitats. As a result, we’re losing the species that thrive in woody areas, such as giraffe, lesser kudu and impala.”

Elephants have thrived in Kenya since hunting was banned in the 1970s and the East African country has led efforts to stamp out ivory poaching. But that has brought a jumbo problem.

Not only do they crash through woodland, uprooting trees and trampling undergrowth, but people living around the parks complain that elephants destroy crops and endanger lives.

Dr Western added: “What happens is that wildlife now becomes a threat to their agriculture and their pastoral way of life. So they willingly invite poachers to get rid of the wildlife.”

His paper, published in the online science journal PLoS One, reviewed 30 years of wildlife data and concluded that the parks were creating additional pressures.

“Parks in Kenya were set aside in areas where people saw large aggregations of animals and typically these were the areas where animals congregated during the dry seasons,” he said. “They ignored seasonal migrations because people didn’t know where these animals migrated to, in many cases.” The result is that large areas of the animals’ range is unprotected, which means migration routes and sources of food are being destroyed each year.

Poaching has never gone away either.

Last week the Kenyan authorities seized $1 million of elephant tusks and black rhinoceros horns which were being transported from southern Africa to Asia. Some of the 16 tusks and two horns were still coated with blood, suggesting the animals had been killed recently.