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February 2013 travel news 21
The Tsavo Trust is a new Kenyan non-profit organisation, formed by five Tsavo residents
to include professionals from the conservation world, wildlife management and legal
fields who all share a passion for the region. Recognising the interdependent relationship
between wild animals, people and the environment, the Tsavo Trust’s goal is to support
wildlife, habitats and communities in the greater Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA).
Due to its vast size and magnificent biodiversity, Tsavo is one of Kenya’s most important
ecosystems. Spanning 42,000 square kilometres, the TCA incorporates the country’s
largest officially protected areas (the adjoining Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills
National Parks) as well as surrounding cattle ranches, private and communal lands
(many of which host large numbers of wildlife dispersing from the Parks).
The TCA boasts Kenya’s single largest population of elephants, famously red in colour
due to Tsavo’s rusty earth tones – numbering 12,000 animals at the last census (February
2011). It also hosts arguably the world’s last viable population of elephants carrying
exceptionally large ivory.
Historically, elephants carrying tusks weighing in excess of 100lbs (45kg) per side were
known as ‘hundred pounders’ and were much sought after by hunters and poachers
alike. Today, at least 12 of these giants remain in Tsavo, and it is their protection from
ivory poachers (alongside the protection of other impressive bulls that will be Tsavo’s
‘hundred pounders’ of the future), which provide the rationale for the Tsavo Trust’s ‘Large
Elephant Monitoring Project’.
Over the last eighteen months, the poaching of elephants for their ivory has increased
alarmingly across the African continent. The latest atrocity, eleven elephants gunned
down along Tsavo’s Tiva River in January this year, has made headlines and appalled
people around the world. If Tsavo’s ‘hundred pounder’ elephants are not secured today,
they and their gene pool will soon be gone forever.
Working in close collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and alongside
research and conservation partners including Save The Elephant, the Tsavo Trust
monitors the elephant populations of Tsavo, with a specific emphasis on the large
‘ tuskers’. This monitoring is carried out by the Tsavo Trust’s light aircraft, providing an
‘eye in the sky’ over this vast wild region. This aircraft has been kindly loaned by Stuart
Herd, a Kenyan entrepreneur who has generously supported the Tsavo Trust from its
very inception. In such a vast wild region as Tsavo, an aircraft is a vital conservation
tool, providing an additional ‘eye in the sky’ in conjunction with KWS’s own aircraft.
As well as contributing to scientific data collation, the reports transmitted real-time from
the Tsavo Trust aircraft can assist KWS in mounting an appropriate response to any
identified threats to Tsavo’s elephants. Considering the sheer size and geography of
the area being surveyed, no single effort can ever be a catch-all solution, as was so
tragically demonstrated by the recent incident on the Tiva. But the Tsavo Trust aircraft
can make a measurable difference to the safety of elephants in Tsavo. To that end, the
KWS team on the ground has warmly welcomed the Tsavo Trust’s participation in their
Protecting Tsavo’s magnificent ‘hundred pounder’ elephants is not just a question of
conservation. These giants among giants also represent a significant economic asset
to Tsavo and to Kenya. Tourists coming to view Tsavo’s wildlife are staggered when they
encounter one of these mighty beasts. Just knowing that they are there draws many
people to Tsavo, bringing with them tourism dollars, employment and wider business
opportunities. From a biodiversity perspective too, these animals are rare specimens,
the pinnacle of their species.
Today, we are witnessing an ‘ivory rush’ fuelling a poaching frenzy, unchecked by weak
legislation which provides little deterrent to poachers, while the Far East lusts, seemingly
insatiably, for more and more ivory. Tsavo’s last surviving ‘hundred pounders’ and the
elephants following in their footsteps are in peril. They need all of our help. Once the ‘big
tusker’ gene is gone, it is gone forever.
Richard Moller is the Chief Conservation Officer and Co-Founder of the Tsavo Trust.
Click HERE to find out more about the Tsavo Trust and support their work.
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