The Nation (Nairobi)
28 February 2010
Nairobi — Kenya and Tanzania on Sunday began a joint census in Amboseli to assess the impact recent prolonged drought had on wildlife.
The count is targeting large mammals and will cover the entire 6000 square kilometre Amboseli ecosystem, including the Amboseli National Park and the surrounding community ranches on the Kenyan and Tanzanian sides.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Society, the count will establish the ecosystem's wildlife population size and distribution following the drought -- the worst in many years. The result will be used for ecological balancing (increasing some species in areas their population is less and reducing others where they are in oversupply).
The exercise will also determine how the distribution and abundance of large carnivores relate to vegetation types and human activities, to help in regenerating vegetation and restoring habitats. "This year's census is particularly crucial given that the park's ecosystem was among the hardest hit by the recent prolonged drought which led to massive deaths of zebra, elephants, buffaloes and wildebeest as well as the local community's livestock," according to KWS.
The exercise will be performed by a technical team and experts who will carry out both ground and aerial survey in the area for five days. It comes at a time when KWS has sounded alarm bells over the decline of large carnivores in the country.
Specifically, lions are the most endangered. With their population declining by 100 every year, conservationists have warned that they may become extinct in the next two decades if the trend is not stopped.
The rhino and elephant are the other species whose fate is on the spot following a tussle between African countries on whether a ban on ivory trade should be extended. While Zambia and Tanzania want the ban lifted, Kenya and other African countries want it extended, fearing that such a move would be a set back to conservation.
The last aerial census in Amboseli was carried out in 2007, and since then, the region has experienced a series of droughts that have not only put pressure on humans and livestock but also on the wild population, increasing human-wildlife conflicts.
According to KWS, the Amboseli National Park remains a crucial dry season refuge for wildlife for the bigger ecosystem due to the availability of water. The park has the highest density of most species, hence its importance in the conservation efforts. The society has pumped in Sh3.2 million for the census, whose results will be released in March.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org