Nation

A herd of elephants at Tsavo National Park. PHOTO | MARK BOULTON

A herd of elephants at Tsavo National Park. PHOTO | MARK BOULTON 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Kenya is in the last laps of the August 8 elections, and elbows, brass knuckles, and hard tackles have been thrown in the game.

It is definitely not the time to talk fringe policy, or explore esoteric ideas.

But then, maybe it is. As the rival camps traverse Kenya promising great things and “development” to come, one wishes they had taken a few minutes to read a dry report by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI).

Early in the year the KWS and TAWIRI took to the air and counted wild animals across the border in Kenya (Tsavo) and Tanzania (Mkomazi).  They call it the Tsavo-Mkomazi Ecosystem (TME) aerial census, and released the results on June 21.

POACHERS

It didn’t make the front pages of newspapers, but was buried inside. The stories focused on a few surprising — and heartening — findings in the census.

At a time when the African elephant is being finished by poachers (up to 30,000 are killed every year), the elephant population had increased by 14.7 per cent (about 1,649) since the last cross-border survey in 2014 in the TME! But there is always a twist in these things.

That increase happened on the Kenyan side, in the Tsavo ecosystem.

In Tanzania’s Mkomazi National Park, the elephant population decreased by 61 per cent –  from 59 elephants in 2014 to 23 this year.

BUFFALO

You would think this was a fluke. However the good people at KWS and TAWIRI also counted giraffes and buffalo, found that if you are an animal in the TME area, then you are probably better off renting a house on the Kenyan side. The buffalo population was 8,623, about a 46 per cent increase compared to 5,912 in 2014.

On the Kenyan side they increased by about 52 per cent, whereas that in Tanzania’s Mkomazi National Park decreased by 68 per cent.

Giraffes also flourished, with very sharp increases in their numbers on the Kenyan side.

KWS and TAWIRI are technical fellows who stay away from politics.

MORE CORRUPT

But the big question is too glaring for both Tanzanians and Kenyans who are interested in big picture governance issues to ignore.

Kenya is ranked more corrupt than Tanzania in virtually all the honesty indexes you will see.

Poaching is one those activities that needs corruption to work.

Therefore, the Tanzanian side of the Tsavo ecosystem should be overflowing with animals, and the corrupt Kenyan side should be a wildlife wasteland.

CONSERVATION

Instead it is the reverse. So the first question, is what has happened to conservation in East Africa (in this case in the Tsavo) that it should so dramatically trump the universal rule of corruption?

The answer to that might be where the source of renewal that the politicians are promising in the campaigns lies.

But it doesn’t end there. As humans decimate wildlife, it is generally agreed that the biggest danger to them is man.

There have been successful attempts to turn former poachers into wildlife guardians, as we have seen in Rwanda with the mountain gorillas, by generously sharing with the neighbouring communities the benefits from tourism.

HERDS

But something eyebrow-raising was found in the census. While there was no such policy, the elephant herds were larger outside the protected areas, where they would ordinarily be in greater peril, than inside.

The difference was huge. The average herd size in the protected areas was around 7, while it was about 13 elephants outside the protected area! Basically, the elephants are safer outside their home!

These issues become more interesting when you consider that this recovery in the areas and period when the standard gauge railway (SGR) was being built.

The SGR caused great disruption to wildlife for sure, but the Chinese and their local friends didn’t kill all the animals as some had feared.

TSAVO ECOSYSTEM

The survey didn’t count, but estimated the number of cattle in the Tsavo ecosystem at 227,704, about a 34 per cent increase from the 2014 census.

This is problematic, but one of the reasons, the survey said, was because the neighbouring Taita ranches were declared a disease-free zone a few years ago.

A bad thing happened because of a good thing. However, this was a remarkable insight into how progress sometimes plays out.

When one man is happy, another man is sad, as The Manhattans sang in the famous 1973 golden oldie album, There’s No Me Without You.

The author is publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3