Whilst the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust focuses efforts on providing protection for elephant populations throughout the Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA), there are many additional key elephant habitats and migratory corridors which are under threat from human encroachment, habitat destruction and poaching. One of these threatened ecosystems is the Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary in the Shimba Hills, which sits within old coastal forest on the edge of the Indian Ocean on Kenya’s southern coastline. The DSWT already has a bond with this beautiful environment as the late David Sheldrick once explored the area, flying over and discovering a hidden waterfall within what is now the Shimba Hills National Reserve, and subsequently having the falls named after him - the 'Sheldrick Falls'.
The Shimba Hills has historically been a thriving environment for elephants, especially for populations moving from the Tsavo ecosystem through the Taita Ranches towards lusher feeding grounds. The Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary was established some 20 years ago as one of the first community-owned wildlife sanctuaries in Kenya, created to help mitigate the escalating human- wildlife conflict in the Shimba Hills area, which is currently home to some 500 elephants. The Sanctuary covers an area of 32 square kilometers which joins the Shimba Hills National Park, of which one third of the forest is government-owned and managed by the Sanctuary on behalf of the Kenya Forest Service, whilst additional buffer land is privately owned, predominantly by local subsistence farmers numbering in excess of 300.
Since the inception of the Sanctuary efforts have been made to protect the existing elephant populations in the forest by working with local land owners who have agreed to sign over the use of their land for wildlife, and in return have received an annual compensation payment, which has been generated from tourism through gate fees and donations. Whilst tourism levels in Kenya were stable this system was successful, yet as the number of paying tourists and visitors to the Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary have dwindled, gate fees received have not been sufficient to cover the compensation payments needed to encourage land owners to reserve their land for elephants instead of returning their land to cultivation. In the early years the Sanctuary was able to pay up to 1,500/- (Kenya shillings, approx $17) per acre per annum to the land owners, yet due to lack of funds the compensation payment has dropped to 200/- (less than $2.40) per acre, which has been donor funded and is unlikely to be accepted by the land owners for another year.
Without sustainable funding the Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary will revert back to subsistence farming whilst any wildlife and elephants residing within the forests will be chased away or hunted down, creating irrevocable environmental damage and immediate human-wildlife conflict. To ensure this devastating possibility does not become a reality the DSWT stepped in to ensure healthy compensation payments were made to the land owners which will guarantee their continued commitment to preserving their land exclusively for wildlife for another year, whilst the Trust is also assisting in paying the salaries of the Mwaluganje Scouts who help protect the sanctuary and its many elephants.
With continued support the Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary has a chance to remain as it is - a spectacular forest environment with healthy wildlife populations and low poaching incidences made possible with considerable field support from the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) and community rangers employed by the Sanctuary. The DSWT is proud to support this vital initiative, working together to ensure Kenya’s wild places, diverse wildlife and elephant populations are protected and conserved for generations to come.
Please help the DSWT in supporting these vitals projects and donate what you can afford securely through our website https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/is/donate_now.asp