Kenya's elephant baby boom
Amboseli National Park in Kenya is experiencing something of an elephant baby boom of late.
So far this year, more than 170 calves were born in the park, which sits at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro. What’s more, two sets of twins were born — rare, according to Amboseli Trust For Elephants (ATE), a local not-for-profit conservation group. By contrast, the Trust reported 113 new calves in 2018. (Last year was not a good year for comparison because the gestation period for elephant pregnancies is up to two years.)
“The main reason the population is rebounding is due to the surplus rains we have had over the past two years,” Tal Manor, project manager for ATE, told NPR. “Baby booms are largely tied to ecological changes.”
After years of severe drought, last year, higher than normal rainfall caused massive flooding, killed people and damaged crops in East Africa. However, for elephants, more rain means more vegetation for grazing and fewer deaths due to dehydration and starvation.
Manor notes that anti-poaching efforts also mean elephants are generally safer. So much so, Kenya's Wildlife Service reports elephant numbers have grown from 16,000 in 1989 to 34,800 by the end of 2019. Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala agrees, telling reporters at Amboseli to mark World Elephant Day on August 12, “In the last couple of years, we have managed to tame poaching in this country.”
Apart from drought, clashes with farmers whose land the elephants trample and poachers who illegally hunt and kill the animals for their tusks are the main threat. In 2019, the Kenyan government instituted bigger fines and prison time for those convicted of poaching. And it seems to be working: 80 elephants were poached in 2018, 34 in 2019, and in 2020, just seven so far.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature still considers African elephants a vulnerable species. Its Red List of Threatened Species reports “the most important perceived threat” is the loss or weakening of habitat as humans continue to expand. In 2016, a comprehensive census of African elephants found the overall population dropped by nearly a third between 2007 and 2014, a loss of 144,000 animals.
All the more reason to welcome this promising turnaround in elephant numbers in Kenya.
ABOVE A mother elephant and her calf head for a nearby marsh at Kenya's Amboseli National Park on August 12
Photo Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images