August 25, 2005

Kenya moves 400 elephants from overcrowded reserve

By David Mwangi

SHIMBA HILLS, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya began moving 400
elephants from an overcrowded reserve on its Indian Ocean coast
on Thursday in an unprecedented transportation intended to
protect the environment and reduce conflict with local people.

The state Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said the $3.2
million, eight-month operation from the Shimba Hills reserve
would be the world's biggest translocation of live animals.

Kenya has 28,000 elephants, many of which are coming into
increasing conflict with peasant farmers who have settled on
land the animals treat as their territory.

At the Shimba Hills, 600 elephants occupy space deemed
adequate for only 200. They frequently break fences and other
property, and destroy local habitat including rare plants.

"This relocation is planned to ease pressure on the
habitat, enhance biodiversity conservation and reduce the
human-elephant conflict cases that have risen dramatically in
recent years," said Patrick Omondi, a top KWS scientist.

KWS plans to transport one elephant family -- up to seven
animals -- on specially strengthened trucks every day. The
first animals were to be tranquilized before starting the

A mature elephant weighs between two to four tonnes.

The beasts were to be trucked from the Shimba Hills reserve
30 km (20 miles) southwest of the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa
to Tsavo East national park, Kenya's biggest national park, 350
km (220 miles) inland, KWS said.

Poachers annihilated the elephant population in Tsavo East
in the 1970s and 1980s, so KWS hopes the re-introduction of 400
animals will boost tourism there.

KWS spokesman Edward Indakwa said in a statement the
operation was "the single largest translocation of animals
undertaken since Noah's Ark."

KWS has taken measures to ensure the relocated elephants do
not cause conflict in their new neighborhood.

"We have dug five water holes to discourage elephants from
wandering into community farms and erected a 41 km (66-mile)
electric fence along the most vulnerable spots on the park
boundary," KWS director Julius Kipngetich said.

Six of the female elephant family heads had been collared
with radios to track their movements through Global Positioning
System (GPS) data.

And 83 new rangers had been recruited at Tsavo East. "If
the poachers come, they will find us ready," Kipngetich added.