IFAW Africa: Driving Livestock Away to Protect Elephants in Tsavo

The post was submitted by Elizabeth Wamba, a staff member of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s East Africa office.

Livestock-illegally-grazing-in-Tsavo_web In theory, wildlife conservation may mean purely conserving or protecting wildlife. Or is it not? In practice, it is a different ball game altogether. It not only means protecting wildlife from harm – mainly human threats such as poaching for trophies or meat or both – but also ensuring that their habitat is well preserved and protected from adverse human impact.

Surrounded by pastoral communities and farmers, Tsavo gets uninvited guests. Bovine in nature, these guests run in their thousands with a mission to compete and destroy, not create. And when the invited guests (local and foreign tourists) drive into the Park and are met by the unflattering sight of cattle and goats, the habitat suffers further when revenues plunge.

Livestock incursions in Tsavo are rife. In the first half of 2010, 45 herdsmen were arraigned in court for illegally grazing their livestock in Tsavo. Over 6,000 heads of cattle were driven out of the Park by rangers. Some of the herdsmen are livestock traders who travel with lorry loads of their stock to the Tsavo area for fattening before selling them off. Others are pastoralists in neighbouring communities. In their view, the grass on the Tsavo side is greener – literally.

At times, the herdsmen and park rangers try to outwit each other. In the case of herdsmen, they sometimes drive their livestock into the Park and walk out of the area, leaving the animals unattended. That way they slyly evade arrest. However, when the rangers come across the livestock, they keep them captive until the owners come to claim them — and they are then arrested and arraigned in court. Under the laws of Kenya, upon conviction, suspects are fined up to US$95.00 and/or imprisoned for three months.

During drought seasons, such as the last one which spanned two years, illegal grazing becomes a major threat to wildlife, possibly and arguably surpassing armed poaching. Over 100,000 cattle and goats were driven out of Tsavo Park in 2009 alone.

Illegal grazing of livestock in Tsavo poses a threat to both wildlife and those who protect wildlife. Tsavo faces enormous degradation due to livestock incursions. Such grazers reduce vegetation cover leaving the land bare, and increasing pressure on the land due to competition for pasture and water with wildlife.

The myth that wildlife and domestic animals can live together is just that – a myth. Livestock drives away wild animals and also leads to the decrease or displacement of plant species, if left unchecked. Livestock can also spread disease to wildlife with devastating effect.

Yet it is not only domestic animals that have negative impact on the Park. Herdsmen may also be a threat to wildlife when some may have ulterior motives to poach. Some herdsmen are sometimes armed, posing a security risk to both wildlife and people in the Park. Raging fires have also been ignited by herdsmen, spreading tens of kilometres and burning everything in their wake.

The cost of livestock drives from Tsavo is no pocket change. It translates to the mobilisation of aircrafts, vehicles and man-hours, to name a few. Livestock drives may seem like treating a symptom instead of the cause. But such drives are short-term solutions and if left unchecked, livestock incursions can overrun a park.

Tsavo has over 11,600 elephants roaming the vast wilderness. It is home to over 60 mammals, 400 birds and 1,000 plant species. For more than five years, IFAW has been supporting the Kenya Wildlife Service through the provision of much-needed vehicles, fuel and radio equipment to protect Tsavo’s habitat and its elephants.

For more information about IFAW’s work around the world please visit: http://www.ifaw.org/kenya

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