Issued on: May 8th, 2021 – 7:56 amChanged: 05/08/2021 – 07:55
Isiolo (Kenya) (AFP)
The flimsy airplanes, attached to metal drums to prevent them from being accidentally blown up, are unlikely weapons in Kenya’s fight to protect endangered species as it conducts its first national wildlife census.
Decades of rampant poaching, the expansion of human settlements, and climate change have all taken a heavy toll on the world’s wildlife population – and central Kenya is no exception.
According to the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN), African savannah elephants are particularly badly affected, the number of which has plummeted by at least 60 percent in the last half century.
So the pilots who prepare their planes at the tiny Isiolo airport know that they are at the forefront of a battle with far-reaching consequences.
“Elephants are the key animals, but if you can locate (any) endangered species, you get the feeling that the count is on the right track,” says pilot Chris Cheruiyot AFP as he puts on his passenger Julius Kabete’s seat belt.
The Kenya Wildlife Service runs near the town of Isiolo. performed an aerial wildlife count Tony KARUMBA AFP
With a camera and audio recorder around his neck, Kabete will spend the next few hours counting Somali giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, oryx and other animals as the two soar through the windy skies and their two-seat Aviat Husky planes at specially designed stations in . refuel The forest.
The ambitious exercise, which began in May, encompasses key species in more than 50 national parks and reserves in Kenya, as well as private and municipal protected areas, and includes marine life.
A female black rhinoceros known as Sonia is pictured with her calf at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya Tony KARUMBA AFP
Much of the existing data on the country’s wildlife population is collected individually by local stakeholders or international conservationists, adding to an isolated approach to animal welfare.
In addition, training spotters is often both time consuming and expensive.
The result is that many scientists prefer to use models to map wildlife rather than track animals in the meat, says zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants.
“They publish (more) modeled results than raw data,” he told AFP.
A male Grevy Zebra walks in the savannah of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya Tony KARUMBA AFP
That makes this virgin census particularly important. His information will help the East African nation devise a long-term strategy for saving a cherished asset that is also a major tourist magnet.
– ‘Very worrisome’ –
But numbers only tell half the story. Incidentally, the spotters have to follow the animals’ habits – where they eat, drink and rest.
In a hotel in Isiolo, a team listens to audio files that document everyday work.
African buffalo rest at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Tony KARUMBA AFP
The preliminary data are already “very worrying,” says Fred Omengo, a scientist with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). .
“The little available (food) is basically a competition between domestic animals and wild animals,” he told AFP.
“In most cases, pets will have the upper hand.”
And while people try to fence in wildlife, both pay a lethal price.
Almost 500 people were mauled or crushed to death by wild animals between 2014 and 2017, said KWS in a report published in December 2019. More recent figures were not available.
Experts from the Kenya Wildlife Service and the government analyze data collected from aerial surveys of wildlife Tony KARUMBA AFP
And the threat to humanity and the animal world will only increase, warn conservationists.
“All wildlife routes have been closed by humans and now elephants want water, know where it is, but cannot get to it. That is worrying, ”says Robert Obrein from KWS.
“We’ve ventured into areas we’ve never been to and the numbers are rising. That means we may not have wildlife outside of protected areas in another 10 years.”
– wind and dust –
It is a fear that census authorities do not lose, whose patient, careful efforts are often undone by bad weather.
When sharp gusts of dust flew into the atmosphere and reduced visibility to less than half a kilometer (a quarter of a mile), the three pilots circled back home after a four-hour mission and initially accepted the defeat.
A female African bush elephant nibbles on an acacia tree in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya Tony KARUMBA AFP
The planes are “inherently unstable” and too light to handle strong winds, said Kennedy Shamala.
“You are flying less than 500 feet (150 meters) above the ground, so you have a minimum height to play with,” the pilot told AFP in a low voice.
“You work all the time, both your legs and your hands, and watch.”
© 2021 AFP