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Tsavo Elephant Numbers Rise, But at a Slower Rate

  • Thursday, July 1, 1999

The number of elephants in Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks in Kenya continues to grow, but more slowly than in the early 1990s.

A January aerial survey of the two parks plus the Rombo and Galana Ranches and Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania (about 15,400 square miles) yielded a count of 8,100 elephants, up 729 from the 1994 count.

A January aerial survey of the two parks plus the Rombo and Galana Ranches and Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania (about 15,400 square miles) yielded a count of 8,100 elephants, up 729 from the 1994 count helped in the survey.

Despite the increase, says Paula Kahumba, scientific adviser to the Kenya Wildlife Service, "it is suspected that the elephant population growth rate is dropping off and appears to be growing at a rate of only 1 to 2 percent each year." This, she notes, is in contrast to an annual growth rate of more than 5 percent in the first half of the 1990s and 7 percent in South Africa's Kruger National Park, which is home to about the same number of elephants.

The count indicated that poaching is still a problem: Of five fresh elephant carcasses spotted by observers, four appeared to have been poached. Yet this level of poaching is considered too low to account for the slowed growth rate.

The survey was conducted to evaluate the impact of a partial lifting of the ban on ivory trade in 1997 to allow limited sales of stockpiled ivory by three southern African countries. The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora had imposed the trade ban in 1989 to stop widespread poaching that led to an alarming decline of elephants in Tsavo and other parts of Africa in the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1972 more than 25,000 elephants had lived in the Tsavo area, before poaching and drought cut their numbers to 6,000.

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