Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, shares his perspective on why this corridor is so important.
By Daniel White
New Year’s Day often finds Americans loading up snack trays and rooting for college football teams. But in Kenya, Charlie Dyer ushered in 2011 by loading his pickup truck with fresh elephant dung and hoping to secure a hard-fought victory for people and wildlife.
For elephants, a win would mean that a traditional migration route — long obstructed by agricultural fences and a major highway — would be restored and two separated populations could once again interact and diversify the gene pool. And if the new corridor worked as hoped, it would relieve mounting conflicts by preventing elephants from destroying crops that people depend on for income and food.
But skeptics doubted whether an elephant corridor would work, or even be completed, especially when funding for the $1 million project stalled.
The Nature Conservancy joined with the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a key partner in the northern Kenya rangelands, to help close the gaps and push the Mount Kenya Elephant Corridor to completion. “The Nature Conservancy came in at just the right time, setting up a challenge for us to raise the final funding to complete the project,” said Jonathan Moss, Lewa’s chief executive.
Lewa had already been working with the Mount Kenya Trust and other key partners to bring the dream of a viable corridor within grasp. Construction of predator-proof wildlife fences began in May 2008, with a goal of re-establishing the elephants’ historical route between the Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve and Mount Kenya National Park.
The last viable option for the corridor was to follow the Marania River valley. The route would have to cross the main Nanyuki-Meru Highway, but only two major private holdings: Marania Farm and Kisima Farm. With both farms on board as active partners, the corridor’s ultimate fate rested on one question: Would the elephants actually pass through a concrete culvert under the busy road?
The corridor partners had planned a variety of creative measures to coax elephants through the underpass. The elephants, however, needed little prodding. As the corridor neared completion, they began gathering in the area as if they sensed a grand opening was imminent.
Dyer, Kisima Farm’s manager, drove to the underpass on New Year’s Day to deploy his unusual cargo like a trail of bread crumbs. That evening, an elephant trio led by a bull nicknamed Tony made the first crossing (pdf). Thanks to the radio-tracking efforts of Save the Elephants, another corridor partner, we know that the trailblazing Tony was also the first elephant to travel the entire corridor.
Sam Lawson, who leads the Conservancy’s projects in Kenya, was in California at the time, but was able to watch events unfold via Google Earth tracking. “It was so heartwarming, even looking at it on a computer screen halfway around the world, to know that the elephants had found the corridor and they were using it,” Lawson said.
Dozens of elephants have since followed in Tony’s tracks, but our partnership still has miles to go before the corridor can achieve its full potential. A second underpass is needed beneath a smaller road, the corridor fencing has to be maintained, and security must be stepped up to ward off poachers.
Still, East Africa’s first elephant underpass and the successful navigation of the new corridor represent tremendous progress toward people and elephants co-existing peacefully in northern Kenya.
The Nature Conservancy thanks the many partners — individuals, agencies and other organizations — whose on-the-ground conservation expertise and/or major funding helped make the Mount Kenya Elephant Corridor a reality:
|Lead Agencies & |
|Major Donors||Key Project Partners|
|Mount Kenya Trust||Directorate-General for International|
Cooperation, The Netherlands
|Laikipia Wildlife Forum|
|Lewa Wildlife Conservancy||Virgin Atlantic||Borana Conservancy|
|Kisima Farm||The Nature Conservancy||Save the Elephants|
|Marania Farm||Safaricom Ltd.||Ngare Ndare Forest Trust|
|Kenya Wildlife Service||Zurich Zoo|
February 22, 2013
Daniel White is a senior conservation writer for The Nature Conservancy based in Virginia.