African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Mount Kilimanjaro Park in Kenya. Photo / Getty Images
When people first predicted a baby boom in 2020, the Maasai Mara was probably not in mind. Kenya reported a record year for elephant births.
200 elephants were born in Kenya’s national parks last year. The country’s cabinet secretary for tourism and wildlife has called the births a “Covid gift” during a difficult time for tourism in the parks.
Kenya has announced the births as well as the results of its first-ever wildlife census.
Part of the role of the new Wildlife Research and Training Institute is to conduct an annual census to create a baseline against which to measure the ecological health of the 23 national parks.
Measuring 14 key species, the report counts the national population of animals, including giraffes, three types of antelope and waterfowl.
However, the African savanna elephants are perhaps the largest and most iconic of the species. Slow-breeding savannah elephants Loxodonta africana are greatly affected by any population change. They are listed as “endangered” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
They are large but susceptible to threats from poaching, extreme weather conditions and the threat of habitat.
The 22 month gestation period means that the regrowth of the elephant population is a slow process. However, the national census shows that the animals are turning a corner.
Over the past thirty years, the Kenya Wildlife Service has seen the wild elephant population grow from 16,000 in 1989 to 36,280 in 2020.
The overall elephant population had increased by 12% in the past three years, with the giraffe population nearly doubling to 34,240 (an increase of 49%).
The fight against poaching also recorded victories.
In February, the Kenyan Wildlife Service reported that no rhinos had been lost to poaching.
This rare victory for animals had not been seen since 1999, said KWS director John Waweru, with poaching incidents reaching 59 animals in 2013.
The KWS also reported a drop in the number of elephants poached, saying it saw a drop “from a high of 384 cases in 2012 when poaching was at its peak to a record 11 in 2020, the lowest on record in the history of the KWS “.
President Uhuru Kenyatta hailed the decision to keep track of the country’s unique species and “the natural wealth that makes us an unparalleled conservation and tourism destination.”
“This national enterprise is a historic opportunity to develop an annotated inventory of our wildlife resources, in recognition of their place as strategic national assets,” he said.