Aerial Surveillance Report for October 2022

Published on the 3rd of December, 2022

Elephant rescues kept the Aerial Unit busy throughout October. Seven orphaned baby elephants were rescued with aerial assistance. The majority of these cases were drought-related.

Often, calves are simply too weak to keep up with their herd and are left behind, while in some instances, mothers are unable to produce milk and the calves have been forcefully ejected from their herd; left to fend for themselves. Many of these desperate calves are found in a collapsed state, unable to stand. When rescued, they are administered with an I.V. drip prior to being transported to one of the SWT facilities.

Given the difficult conditions at the height of the drought, it is perhaps surprising that more cases of Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) were not experienced in October, however, the lack of rain meant less crops and subsequently less crop raiding, which is often a cause of HEC. Only four callouts occurred during the month: These were all attended to by the SWT helicopter and with the exception of a small number of individuals from larger groups, in each instance, the "problem" elephants were successfully pushed back into the protected areas and out of harm's way.

Also surprising was that livestock incursions remained at relatively low numbers compared to previous years, especially in comparison to previous drought periods. This is a testament to persistent aerial patrols, and the efforts of KWS rangers on the ground who have kept up the pressure on the herders.

Something which remained unchanged from previous years, however, was the frequency and volume of fires in the Chyulu Hills National Park. This area is plagued by bushfires on an annual basis. For the most part, these fires are typically set by herders seeking to improve grazing for livestock, but this year many of the fires were also set by poachers and/or miraa (khat) harvesters. The worst of the fires, which carried on for several days, burned more than 10,000 acres.

There was a small amount of logging activity recorded in Tsavo East National Park, particularly in the north, as well as on KARI Ranch, adjacent to the Chyulu Hills National Park. Logging for charcoal was recorded on Galana Ranch, where the Trust has been expanding its field operations.

During the month's aerial patrols, four elephant carcasses were documented. While not all fresh, all four animals were believed to have died of natural causes, with ivory intact. Despite the terrible conditions, elephant mortality has remained lower than in previous drought years. Unfortunately, other smaller mammals were not as lucky. With regard to poaching activity, 7 poachers' harbours were discovered by our pilots during the month, and subsequently destroyed/removed by ground teams.

There were some great wildlife sighting in October, including a record sighting of rhinos on a single flight in Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary (71 rhinos). But even more exciting was the observation of two rhinos (mother and calf), a good distance outside of the normal range of the remaining Tsavo East rhino population. We are waiting for confirmation of whether these might be two previously unrecorded individuals. Even if not, their presence represents a significant increase in territory. Other significant sightings included a melanistic serval as well as an active lion hunt (two lionesses pursuing a herd of buffalo).

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