Nicole Nadler investigates how political and environmental changes have resulted in the miraculous rise in Kenya’s elephant population over the last three decades.
Photo by Hu Chen
In 1975,The New York Times published an article about the rapid decline of elephants in Africa, citing both the destruction of the land due to agriculture and human habitation and the uptick in Kenya’s illegal ivory trade. It also predicted that if the 120,000 estimated elephants in Kenya were to continue being killed at the current rate, they would be completely extinct within a decade.
Fourteen years later, The New York Times published another article about the Kenyan President, Daniel Arap Moi, igniting 12 tons of elephant tusks in the Nairobi National Park in protest of the ivory trade which had so brutally reduced the elephant population down to a mere 17,000.
The Baby Boom
On August 12th of this year, coinciding with World Elephant Day, reports broke of an elephant “baby boom” in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, doubling its previous 1989 population. Over 34,000 elephants are now living in Kenya, with about 170 elephant calves being born this year – including an extremely rare two sets of twins, something that has only been recorded twice before in the last five decades.
"It seems baby elephants are falling out of the sky. The ability of a female to conceive and carry a calf to term depends greatly on her own physical condition. “During drought years, females may stop all reproductive cycling until rainfall improves, resulting in vegetation growth." – Cynthia Moss, director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants
The 2019 annual report from The Amboseli Trust for Elephants said that both 2018 and 2019 received a higher than normal amount of rainfall, leading to a more plentiful food and water supply. Elephants will often follow the wet season to find better sources of food and water, with female elephants in particular requiring a higher daily water intake to be able to lactate. Elephants that are starving and dehydrated often are not able to conceive, let alone carry to full term.
The Decline (and Rise?) of Poaching
At the beginning of this year, Kenya announced that wildlife poaching had seen a 90% decrease in only six years. Kenya’s Wildlife Service (KWS) cited their enhanced surveillance, strengthened anti-poaching laws as well a surge in involvement form local communities, private ranches, and conservation stakeholders as key factors in reducing poaching across the country.
"Overall in Kenya anti-poaching efforts are also high and elephants are generally safer, which means [fewer] get killed than in other parts of Africa, and Kenya's elephant population is slowly increasing." – Tal Manor, project manager for Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Despite these positive developments, there is still a great cause for concern. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many African countries including Kenya have lost a significant part of their income from tourist visits. The loss of this income has already led to a cut in the number of patrols, though a bigger concern is the loss of earnings that local communities would have received from selling their crafts to the tourists visiting their villages. As the communities suffer, there is a greater chance that people will look to poaching for survival.
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