This blog post is written by my good friend, Cynthia Moss, a scientist and Time Hero of the Planet who may be the worlds authority on African elephants, having spent over 40 years studying the elephant population in the Amboseli National Park. I requested Cynthia to post on my blog as a guest after I heard that at least 14 elephants and there lions had been speared during the last few weeks in the Amboseli Ecosytem.
Fourteen elephants who regularly use Amboseli National Park as the core of their range were speared in January and February. This picture of Odile though taken 2 years ago represents what has happened to the 14 other elephants in recent weeks, of which four have died.
Soila Sayialel, the Project Manager of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP), said in a recent email to colleagues,
“Need your help, we cannot stand all this: it pains, it hurts, it is sad and hard to understand what is the future of Amboseli elephants.”
What indeed? Usually, the goodwill engendered amongst the Maasai community by Soila and her colleagues serves as a steadfast if tenuous barrier between the elephants and the relatively few pastoralists or newly-arrived agriculturalists who might do them harm. The range of causes of elephant spearing are complex enough — revenge, political protest, self- or crop-protection, delinquency, and, to a lesser extent in Amboseli at least, ivory poaching. But add to those the current atmosphere of uncertainty and unrest in the country, and the mix becomes volatile, the risk to elephants high.
Soila went on to comment on the specifics of the recent spearings in and around the 2,000-hectare (5,000-acre) Satao Elerai community conservation area some 20 km (12 mi) southeast of the Park: “There were several issues that I believe escalated spearing of elephants. The people who migrated from the north to the south and from other areas due to the heavy January rains were denied grazing access in the conservation area.
“The community also claimed that the management of Satao Elerai camp had created water points in the conservation area which have become a resting ground for elephants during daytime from which they go crop raiding at night. Also there was the case of a lady killed by an elephant in May 2007 for which KWS has not compensated up to now. What I believe is the community wanted some attention from KWS. Also the issue of [private] land ownership takes time for the Maasai to adopt… I did not think that crop raiding was an issue [this time] after visiting the farms.”
Elephant darting is handled by the Kenya Wildlife Service, but Siola and the team assist and help to keep the elephant cool during the treatment.
She added that in the bigger picture local politics and the desperate need for job creation for Maasai warriors are critical underlying issues.
Soila sent this grim list with her email:
1. Tulip, adult female from TA family, dead.
2. Tecla’s ’07 calf, dead.
3. Calf 4-month-old, dead with 14 spear wounds.
4. Isabella (?), 18-year-old female, dead.
5. Tulip’s ’06 calf with head injury
6. Twoo, 7-year-old female with body wound.
7. Isis, matriarch of IB family with trunk wound.
8. Trevor, 9-year-old bull with body wound.
9. Calvin, young bull with body wound.
10. Eldoret, young bull with leg wound.
11. Unknown male class 1B (15-19 yrs) with spear in head.
12. Ganesh, 45-year-old bull with elbow wound.
13. M262, 40-year-old bull with front right wrist wound,
14. Unknown adult bull at Kimana with front leg wound.
Not counting five independent breeding bulls (Ira, Scoop-Ear, Isaiah and Lumpy Tusk and one unknown) who were also speared or shot between May and December 2007.
These elephants are or were all known individuals who have been studied and followed since birth as part of the programme of research on the longest-studied population of elephants in the world.
Despite her injuries, Tulip survived an went on to have a calf!
Soila and the other directors of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE), notably Cynthia Moss, are working with the Kenya Wildlife Service, local government authorities, and other NGOs to address the complex social and economic issues that inevitably arise when people and wildlife compete for land. Co-existance is possible, and ATE experience has shown that a mutually beneficial accord can be negotiated between the wildlife and the surrounding community. But accords are always at risk from the greed or recalcitrance of a few individuals.
ATE urgently needs support funds to keep the field presence of Soila and her teammate sisters, Norah and Katito, strong, mobile and responsive. Running costs for 4×4 vehicles ($1,500 per month), mobile telephone communication ($500 p.m.), VHF radios (new $1,200 base station and antenna needed)are all critical, and our donor-driven budget is always stretched to the limit. It is necessary need to keep the 13 Maasai Elephant Scouts operational with mobile telephone air time ($100 per head per month). Without these links, ATE’s effectiveness in reaching out to the Maasai community would dwindle.
Soila ended her email saying, “Today we drove like crazy searching for the male with a spear in the forehead. We couldn’t raise KWS on the radio and the scout must have run out of credit on his mobile. Very frustrating. Maybe we can find him tomorrow.”
One fire put out, but there are many more to prevent.
Cynthia Moss and the AA family in Amboseli
Please help us to support Cythia and her team of experts on the ground. All donations made on this blog post will be dedicated entirely to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Thank you for your concern. Richard Leakey