Early in the morning the DSWT’s Top Cub, one of six-strong aircraft that now make up the aerial unit, heads off on a general patrol across the plains of Tsavo.
Early morning is a good time to fly but we are always careful not to become predictable. To have a routine is dangerous and plays right into the hands of poachers and when might be a good time to strike at herds of elephants. Working in close collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service we change the areas of patrol on a daily basis, but knowing and predicting the movement of the elephants and their seasonal patterns is most important.
Due to one large thunderstorm a couple of weeks ago the ground below is a carpet of green and there are multiple fresh, small waterholes scattered around a small area and this week we have concentrated in this area. These fresh water ponds attract all manner of birdlife and wildlife including elephants; and unfortunately poachers too.
The Top Cub is ideal for scanning the Tsavo landscape at low speed and low level offering views from above over varied terrain, from open plains in the south to the norths thick comiphera bush. From this perspective we can find poachers hide outs and recently lit fires that otherwise would be hidden at ground level. These daily patrols across the wider Tsavo Conservation area further enable us to check on the elephants and their behaviour; whether they are calm or disturbed, and of course checking for any injuries and wounds is terribly important, as an injured animal can make a full recovery if they can receive timely veterinary treatment. Reassuringly, all was well this morning and a KWS/DSWT has been directed to the same area to patrol on foot to ensure that the elephants are eating in peace.
The Top Cub will return to the same area again later to ensure that an aerial presence is maintained, and thus in lies the immense importance of aerial surveillance to protecting Kenya’s wildlife and elephant population. An aerial presence has revolutionized our ability to conserve large tracts of land where surveillance and protection is needed the most. Whether it is spotting illegal activities, veterinary cases or orphan rescues, an aerial presence highly compliments and reinforces the hard work of the DSWT and KWS teams on the ground.