Planes, helicopters, boats and 4x4s are being deployed, hundreds of camera traps and satellite collars monitored, and an array of dung studied across Kenya, as the country embarks on its first national census of wildlife.
The census, covering the country’s 58 national parks and reserves, private and community conservancies, is due to be completed by the end of July. It will cost 250m Kenyan shillings (GBP1.6m) and includes a count of terrestrial and marine mammals, key birds such as ostriches and kori bustards, and endangered primates. The results are expected in August.
The aim of the count is to establish a baseline of wildlife status and distribution to inform policy direction. The country’s tourism and wildlife cabinet secretary, Najib Balala, said the census would also recommend modern strategies for effective wildlife conservation and management. while monitoring the number and distribution of rare and threatened species such as pangolins and green and hawksbill turtles, whose numbers are in decline because of intense poaching.
While the country has conducted targeted counts for endangered animals such as elephants and rhinos, there has been little monitoring of other rare, endangered and threatened species “whose numbers and range have significantly declined in the past three decades”, the government says. These include rare antelope species, including the sable, sitatunga, hirola and mountain bongo. The mountain bongo and hirola are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered”.
According to the brief, key wildlife landscapes in Kenya have experienced challenges in terms of land tenure and its use, drought and the climate crisis, factors “likely to impact negatively on the wildlife population for certain species”.
“It is therefore important to undertake this national survey to establish a baseline data on wildlife population status and distribution for future use, to understand wildlife population trends and shifts in their distribution. We also need to know if any given area has the carrying capacity for particular animals, and the effects climate change and increase in human population have on wildlife conservation,” said Balala.
Balala said the count would also help mitigate rising cases of human-wildlife conflicts and reduce a mounting compensation bill, now standing at 14bn Kenyan shillings.
Ground and aerial techniques are being used to count large mammals in the open savannah, arid and semi-arid areas, while camera traps and dung counts are being used in forested ecosystems.
Dr Patrick Omondi, acting director of the newly formed Wildlife Research and Training Institute, said the government was using “internationally recognised peer-review methodologies” to arrive at accurate data.
“Deployment of personnel and equipment depends on the size of a conservation area,” he said. “For example, we deployed a team of 50 and 13 aircraft, both fixed and helicopters, in the Tsavo ecosystem, the country’s largest. Other methods include using satellite collars, especially for migratory animals, to prevent double counts. Aerial voice recorders are also being used to analyse the presence of specific animals in any given area.