Kenya Wildlife Service in partnership with Tanzania Wildlife Division and the African Wildlife Fund (AWF) will from Tuesday, February 14, 2012 begin a joint first-ever large carnivore census in the Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro cross-border ecosystem.
The 10-day census programme which has been funded jointly by KWS and AWF to a tune of KSh1.2 million is set to determine the abundance and spatial distribution of large carnivores across the cross-border ecosystem. The programme has also been supported by Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and group ranches within the Amboseli and West Kilimanjaro ecosystem. The group ranches include; Olgulului Ololorashi, Eselengei, Mbirikani, Kimana, Mailua, Olgulului Trust and Enduimet Wildlife Management areas in West Kilimanjaro. The targeted large carnivore species for this survey include the lion, hyena, cheetah, leopard, jackal and wild dog.
The census is aimed to provide baseline information to set up a long-term monitoring programme for large carnivore populations in the Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro cross-border ecosystem. Predation is a major issue to the communities living adjacent to both Amboseli National Park and West Kilimanjaro area. Therefore, this exercise will be a key factor in validating community’s complaints, especially on the size of the hyena population and the livestock losses caused by large carnivores. It will also to determine the abundance and spatial distribution of the large carnivores.
Conflict caused by large carnivores has raised perception of large numbers of large carnivores in the ecosystem. In addition, human-carnivore conflict mitigation initiatives are not uniform across the two countries. Therefore, the census will provide information that can be a basis for these measures.
The census which will mainly use call-in playbacks which involves playing vocalizations that will attract carnivores by playing a mix of lion roars, hyenas mobbing lions at a kill and a bleat of a dying wildebeest calf played through speakers that amplify a substantive amount of decibels (110-120db). This will be used to estimate carnivore abundance, distribution and age-sex composition. Since the study areas covers protected as well as semi-protected community areas such as group ranches and wildlife management area (WMA), zones will be created according to the level of protection and human activities.
In 2009, five lions were collared in an effort to monitor their movements and understanding human-lion conflict in the Amboseli west Kilimanjaro ecosystem. According to the Conservation and Management Strategy for Lions and Spotted Hyenas, quick and decisive actions need to be taken to create public awareness, especially on the large carnivores. The strategy, which was launched in 2009, pays special attention on the national population of lions which has been on the decline in the last 10 years at the rate of 100 per year. Their population has dropped from an estimated 2700 in the year 2002 to the current less than 2000 individuals. If the current decline rate continues, there won’t be a single lion surviving in Kenya in the next 20 years.
The large carnivores form a vital component of Kenya’s natural ecosystem and play a critical role in Kenya’s tourism industry. In an effort to conserve the remaining populations KWS and the National Large Carnivore Task Force spearheaded a process of formulating a national strategy in line with this census. It is being implemented and will constitute an ongoing lion monitoring project by KWS and Leiden University, Netherlands.