Aerial Surveillance Report for September 2021

Published on the 17th of October, 2021

The effects of the drought really began to appear in September, with a significant increase in pressure from illegal livestock. This was notable in northern Tsavo East, along the Tiva River, and towards the end of the Yatta Plateau, where livestock had generally been brought under control and removed from the Park, however, we witnessed a huge influx of cattle, sheep and goats in both areas. On some flights our pilots observed large plumes of dust stretching out for several kilometres caused by livestock being led to water on the Galana River.

A predictable increase in bushfires was also observed, with pilots responding on several occasions to assist with aerial coverage of fires in the Chyulu Hills National Park, as well as the adjacent section of Tsavo West. These fires are all thought to have been set intentionally for a number of different reasons, and almost always require a huge response from multiple partners to contain.

There was a slight uplift in the number of sightings of logging activity both in Tsavo East and Chyulu Hills NP. Charcoal burning was only observed twice in Tsavo East, in the northeast corner of the Park and near the Athi River. However, extensive charcoal operations were observed throughout the month on Galana and Kulalu Ranches.

There were only two sightings of poaching activity. During a helicopter patrol, a team was dropped at a waterhole atop the Yatta where footprints of
2 suspected poachers were observed. There was a definite increase in carcass sightings, and while many of these were older carcasses which have avoided detection for over a year, some of them were more recent and point to natural causes, most likely drought related. Of 7 carcasses discovered, ivory was recovered from 6 of them.

As anticipated, there was a general decrease in the number of human-elephant conflict cases responded to, as elephants returned to familiar water sources within the National Parks. Four incidents in total were responded to, three of which involved a helicopter pushing various small numbers of elephants back into the Park from community land. Somewhat surprisingly, there were only two veterinary cases in September that required assistance from the Aerial Unit, one involving a buffalo and the other a leopard.

Other activities conducted by the Aerial Unit involved the pickup and transfer of 2 warthog babies that were separated from their mother when they fell into a water trough, as well as an abandoned lesser kudu calf, which was discovered by members of the community in Galana Ranch. An SWT helicopter also assisted in the search for a rhino calf, which went missing in Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. Unfortunately the calf could not be located.

Some aerial highlights of the month included multiple sightings of leopard, as well as a large pride of 12 lions and separately, a pack of 20 wild dogs.

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