Tony Karumba / AFP via Getty Images
Kenya Amboseli National Park is experiencing something with an elephant baby boom.
The park, which sits at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, has reported the birth of more than 170 calves this year and counting. Moreover, two groups of twins have been born this year, a rare occurrence according to Amboseli Trust For Elephants, a non-profit conservation group in Kenya.
In contrast, the Trust reported 113 young calves born in 2018. (2019 is not a good year for comparison because the gestation period for elephant pregnancies is up to two years.)
“The main reason the population is withdrawing is because of the heavy rains we have had over the past two years,” Tal Manor, project manager for ATE, said in an email to NPR. “Baby boomers are mainly related to ecological change.”
In 2019, the International Rescue Committee reported more than normal rains, which caused massive flooding, killing people and damaging crops in East Africa. The heavy rain came after the region had years of severe drought. For elephants, more rain means more vegetation for grazing and less death due to dehydration and starvation.
“Overall, in Kenya anti-crime efforts are also high and elephants are generally safer, which means [fewer] to be killed that in other parts of Africa, “added Manor.” And the elephant population in Kenya is growing slowly. “
Baby boom is not the only pachyderm statistics for anger. Kenya Wildlife Service said the country has seen its elephant population grow from 16,000 elephants in 1989 to 34,800 by the end of 2019.
There are several threats to the elephant population – climate change-related droughts, clashes with farmers on whose land elephants trample, and hunters who illegally trample animals for their valuable turns.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala, says the increase in the elephant population is partly due to the country’s efforts to stop hunters.
“In the last two years we have managed to tame hunting in this country,” Balala told reporters at Amboseli National Park during an event Wednesday that coincided with World Elephant Day.
In 2019, the Kenyan government created harsher consequences for anyone convicted of hunting, including large fines and jail time, the AP reported.
In Kenya, 80 elephants were buried in 2018. The number dropped significantly to 34 in 2019. And by 2020, the numbers are on track to reach an even smaller figure for the full year.
“Our number of elephants caught from January to date has been seven,” Balala said. He added: “We are sorry it was seven.”
Despite promising numbers in Kenya, African elephants are still considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
While illegal extinction remains a threat to the population, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports the “most perceived threat” is habitat loss or weakening caused by the continued expansion of the human population and land transformation.
Director General of the Eastern Animal Service in Kenya John Waweru spoke of the threat of “human-elephant conflict” over conservation efforts during World Elephant Day event – which can arise when elephants attack farmers’ crops and kill livestock.
The human elephant conflict is emerging as the main threat to elephant conservation and its effective taming along with enhanced security will require ongoing efforts by KWS & Stakeholders – KWS DG Brig (Rtd) J. Waweru #WorldElephantDay pic. twitter.com/6ok4tSyHoP
– KWS (@kwskenya) 12 August 2020
“Elephants are one of the natural resources that has been captured by human greed on the one hand and human need on the other, so there we have a dichotomy,” Waweru said.
In 2016, NPR reported a comprehensive census of African elephants that found that the total population decreased by almost a third between 2007 and 2014, reaching 144,000 lost animals.
NPR East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta contributed to this story.