Kenya is rich in biodiversity, with more than 35,000 species of plants and animals. The country has already taken steps to address the decline of many of its species. Now, it’s looking to better understand and protect native animals with a first-ever wildlife census.In May, the country embarked on the two-month effort. Using aircraft, GPS trackers, boats, and camera traps, Kenya’s Wildlife Service is aiming to count every animal. Rangers, researchers, and community members will work to cover all the country’s 58 national parks. They will be focusing on conservation areas and wildlife-rich-counties.
Because there hasn’t been a similar count before, this effort will provide officials with key information.
Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala says, “It is important to undertake this National Survey to establish a baseline data on wildlife population status and distribution for future use, to understand wildlife population trends and shifts in their distribution.”
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With this information, officials say they can better identify threats to species and work toward better conservation practices.
Among the aquatic and land mammals to be counted are rare species like the pangolin and Sable antelope, as well as rhinos, elephants, and giraffes. While they have a general idea about the elephants and rhinos, there are some species that haven’t been counted before at all. There are also certain areas that haven’t been monitored as much.
Winnie Kiiru, acting chairperson of the Kenya Wildlife Research Training Institute, says, “We know there are major gaps. We probably don’t know much about what is going on in northern Kenya.”
What’s learned will also play a role in ecotourism, which has sharply declined in Kenya due to the pandemic. The country closed its border in March 2020 to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Balala says the industry lost more than 80% of its annual revenue and isn’t expected to fully recover until 2024. With the census, Kenya will be better prepared to set tourism policies when the industry gets back to normal.
According to Kenyan government officials, wildlife throughout the country face threats from habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation, and rapid human population growth. The country is working to address this in several ways.
PHOTO: PIXABAY/PETE BALL
A report from the Institute of Economic Affairs says, “Kenya is putting in place interventions to tackle biodiversity loss. They range from environmental policies and legislation, community involvement, national biodiversity assessment and documentation, sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity, including fair and equitable benefit-sharing.”
In addition, about 8% of the country’s lands are protected for wildlife conservation.