Elephants

After Man, the mammal having most impact on the area is the African Elephant. One hundred years ago, Laikipia had almost no elephants, and none at all outside the few forests in the north and west of the region. This may have been because the then resident Maasai burned the grasslands regularly, leaving little of the woody vegetation that elephants like. Laikipia’s proximity to ivory trade routes of old is another possible reason. There were, however, many elephants further north in Samburu, which became a magnet for early European elephant hunters.

     

In Colonial times grass burning ceased and woody vegetation increased in extent. New water sources were also built, making Laikipia more attractive to elephants, which began arriving in small groups from the north. Rampant ivory poaching in the 1970s and 1980s saw elephant numbers in Samburu plummet. Much larger groups moved to Laikipia, many becoming resident. Since 1990, following the ivory trade ban, elephant numbers in Laikipia have continued to increase, while Samburu’s herds have also gradually recovered, making this the second largest elephant population in Kenya after that in Tsavo National Park.

Much of this population makes a twice-yearly migration, moving northward into Samburu during the rainy seasons and returning to Laikipia when water sources in the north dry up. While this has the semblance of a traditional migration, we know it has come about only in the past 40 or 50 years – within the lifetime of some old matriarch elephants.

Growing elephant numbers are having a marked effect on the vegetation, as they feed on, strip and knock over trees. Their most obvious impact is on the ‘fever’ tree Acacia woodlands lining watercourses. Some elephant exclusion zones have been created, using strands of electrified wire to protect these trees and allow them to regenerate.

In southern Laikipia, where open rangeland abuts on small-scale farms, crop-raiding elephants have created havoc, on occasion even killing people trying to defend their properties. The Laikipia Wildlife Forum has erected an elephant-proof fence across the district, separating conservation and farming areas.

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