The DSWT’s Aerial Unit observed a disturbing rise in elephant poaching in the month of March. Several factors may be contributing to this, including severe drought, which has affected much of the country, and the upcoming general elections in August. The last peak in poaching preceded the 2012 elections, so it is believed there is some connection. In total, nine carcasses were discovered from the air, six of which appear to have died this year and another three that were over a year old, but which still had ivory intact. As most of the carcasses were discovered in the same general area, the helicopter focused a lot of attention here, making landings with rangers to pick up fresh signs of humans.
Earlier in the month, KWS did make contact with a gang of poachers and tragically the life of Tsavo East’s Company Commander was lost in the gun battle. Another officer was injured in the fight and airlifted by one of the DSWT’s Super Cubs to Voi where he could receive medical attention. Fortunately, he is expected to make a full recovery. Prior to his extraction, two of the poachers were gunned down, and the remaining two were also shot dead later in the fight.
During the month, the helicopter conducted a two-day operation in support of the Kenya Wildlife Service in Meru National Park and the surrounding protected areas to survey the rhino population and lookout for any other illegal activity. Illegal livestock was noted in the park but thankfully no other illegal activity was observed. This month a veterinary treatment was also facilitated in Ithumba by the helicopter. Without the helicopter this job would not have been possible, since as soon as Dr. Poghon approached the elephant in the relatively open space around the mud bath, it immediately moved off into very thick bush, which was inaccessible by vehicle.
The Aerial Unit was involved in the search for a young elephant with an injury to its leg that had been sighted by a tour operator near Kanderi Swamp as well as an orphaned baby elephant which was sighted from a DSWT Super Cub wandering around on its own near Voi.
Despite the increase in poaching activity, there were many highlights in the month of March, particularly sightings of big cats. The most dramatic sighting was of a pride of lion zeroing in on a cornered buffalo on the Tiva River, seen by the helicopter. Sightings of wild dog continue to increase and on one morning two different aircraft sighted separate packs of wild dogs, independently. The increasing frequency of sightings of this endangered predator is a really positive indicator of the improving health of the ecosystem. Sightings of leopards seem to also be on the rise; and this month, one of our pilots was treated to a front-seat show of a beautiful specimen in the middle of a hunt, while another one of our pilots witnessed three leopards cross in front of him while taxing down the Trust’s Kaluku airfield!
You can read about these stories and more in our monthly Aerial Report: