Tracking elephants as new railway cuts Kenya

April 18, 2016 8:40 am
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Conservationists fear the new train route slicing through the giant Tsavo national park will affect the movement of elephants/AFP-Tony Karumba
Conservationists fear the new train route slicing through the giant Tsavo national park will affect the movement of elephants/AFP-Tony Karumba

, TSAVO, Kenya, Apr 18 – Dangling from a helicopter with a high powered rifle, a Kenyan vet fires drugged darts at elephants to sedate them so they can be fitted with satellite collars.

Ten minutes after the elephant is darted, the lumbering creature stumbles, and falls asleep. Ground teams are scrambled, rushing to the scene with just a 20 minute window to conduct tests and fit the collar before it regains consciousness.

Overview
  • More than 12,000 elephants live in Tsavo Park, threatened daily by poaching, but also more recently, by the construction of a new high-speed railway linking Kenya's coast to the capital.
  • The new 483-kilometre (300-mile) train route linking Kenya's Nairobi to the country's main port Mombasa is worrying conservationists, who fear the new infrastructure slicing through the giant Tsavo national park will affect the movement of elephants.
  • It is hoped that the satellite radio tracking collars fitted last month by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and conservation group Save the Elephants, will help conservationists monitor railway crossing points to allow the animals to live in peace.

More than 12,000 elephants live in Tsavo Park, threatened daily by poaching, but also more recently, by the construction of a new high-speed railway linking Kenya’s coast to the capital.

The new 483-kilometre (300-mile) train route linking Kenya’s Nairobi to the country’s main port Mombasa is worrying conservationists, who fear the new infrastructure slicing through the giant Tsavo national park will affect the movement of elephants.

It is hoped that the satellite radio tracking collars fitted last month by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and conservation group Save the Elephants, will help conservationists monitor railway crossing points to allow the animals to live in peace.

“This project is the first of its kind in Kenya and indeed in Africa,” said Dr Benson Okita, head of monitoring at Save the Elephants. “It seeks to understand how elephant movements are influenced by a major infrastructural project.”

Once the railway is complete, a six-lane motorway is also planned, so understanding what impact the railway has on the animals will be crucial to limiting the disruption caused by a new road.

Tsavo, spread over a western and eastern park, covers a vast 20,812 square kilometre (8,035 square miles) area of dense bush, about the size of Slovenia or Djibouti.

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