May was a very busy month for the Aerial Unit, with six pilots uncovering all manner of illegal activities. We are approaching the busiest time of the year, and this has been exacerbated by the lack of rains regionally. Very little rain fell in November-December, which is typically the most significant rainy season in Tsavo. Add to that, the April-May rains failed almost entirely, so many farmers have now missed two potential crops.
Poaching activity was up in May, with three poaching related callouts and seven different sightings observed. The helicopter was also called out to assist in the treatment of a snared buffalo, transporting the vet to dart the buffalo so that the snare could be safely removed and the wound treated. The buffalo was given a good prognosis.
The Aerial Unit also assisted in several other veterinary cases, including a bull elephant in obvious distress and a Grevy's zebra on with an abnormal growth on its hoof.
Charcoal burning remains a challenge on Galana Ranch, with ongoing, industrial-scale charcoal burning. On each occasion that the activity was observed, multiple 30-ton lorries were also on-site, preparing to transport the charcoal to market. Charcoal kilns were also spotted in the Arabuko Sokoke Forest (ASF), where the SWT has recently positioned two teams. Wood carving and illegal grass cutting was also observed in ASF.
Other illegal activities observed included honey harvesting, illegal fishing in Lake Jipe, marijuana cultivation in the Chyulu Hills, and trespassing across the ecosystem.
Livestock incursions occurred throughout Tsavo East and West. In the northern sector of Tsavo East, a new incursion along the southern bank of the Tiva River was first detected during a fixed-wing aerial patrol. Supported by ground teams, a week of focused aerial patrols ensued, with fixed-wing planes surveying the location of livestock and the helicopter driving cattle towards the Park boundary. As a result, cattle were successfully removed from the area. In the southern sector of Tsavo West, the livestock situation reached a peak with over 30,000 cattle sighted on a single day between two aircraft. This marked the beginning of a weeklong operation by KWS to remove the cattle from the Park.
Although several elephant carcasses were found on aerial patrols, most were very old. A total of four old carcasses and one fresh (less than three days old) were found. The fresh carcass belonged to an adult male, but given that his tusks were still intact, it is assumed that he died from natural causes.
Three aerial orphan rescues were conducted during May. These included an orphan elephant who had been under observation by KWS for three days before being airlifted by helicopter to Nairobi, a day-old orphaned giraffe found next to her dead mother on Mbirikani Group Ranch, and another orphaned elephant who had become stuck in mud on Lewa Conservancy. The Lewa calf was collected in the Trust's Cessna Caravan and transported to our Nairobi Nursery.
Human-elephant conflict cases were relatively few in May. Fixed-wing aircraft only attended to two callouts of elephants outside of protected areas. In both cases, coordinates were provided to KWS's Problem Animal Management Unit for action on the ground.
Highlighted wildlife sightings from the month included a pride of nine lions crossing the Galana River and an infant black rhino calf with his mum.