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Kenya is counting its wildlife for the first time in its history6 min read

June 28, 2021 4 min read


Kenya is counting its wildlife for the first time in its history6 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Kenya is a country in Africa known for its abundant black tea, and wildlife.

Image: Giphy

In May, Kenya announced that it will be counting all of its land and marine wildlife in what is being called Kenya’s first ever wildlife census!

What is a census?

A census is a survey conducted on the full set of observable objects of a particular subject taken for a particular location. Location can be as big as the universe and as small as the society you live in.

For example, India conducts a population census every 10 years. The last census conducted in 2011 showed that India’s total population was 1,210,193,422. It also showed that Uttar Pradesh was the most populated state with 199,812,341 people, and Sikkim was the least populated with only 610,577 people. This census also reveals how many people are employed or unemployed, living in urban areas or rural areas, educated or not educated etc.

As you can guess by now, a census is not just a record but also research that helps determine future course of action. Policies and plans are made based on such censuses.

Why a wildlife census?

Image: Giphy

More than 2 million tourists visit Kenya every year! One of the major attractions of Kenya is the Amboseli National Park, which houses 56 known species, and spans over 150 miles in the southern part of the country.

Despite the pandemic, people are still flocking to Kenya to witness its wildlife. But there are some who are visiting to undertake a big government sponsored initiative— to count all of the land and marine wildlife in Kenya.

And that too, for the first time ever!

While earlier censuses focused on highly-trafficked species, this wildlife census is dedicated to ALL land and marine wildlife. While the aim of the census is not to have an exact count, researchers hope to create a baseline of wildlife data for further research and action. A separate survey for birds, reptiles, and amphibians is also underway.

Kenya is home to 1,000 wildlife species. So far, any data collection has been driven by local conservatories, and local and international scientists for their own projects. This census will offer consolidated data to study the wildlife of Kenya as a whole.

In most researches, certain species tend to get more attention which puts other endangered species at the risk of being ignored (Read: The Case of the Northern White Rhino: Can science save a species that is functionally extinct?).

The focus on iconic species is also a problem because it means that smaller species, some that have not enjoyed the same level of attention both nationally and on a global platform, have maybe suffered lack of data.

Winnie Kiiru, wildlife biologist and director of government relations for the Elephant Protection Initiative, The World

Kiiru also notes that rare hirola and roan antelopes are severely endangered but are hardly known internationally
(Read: Charismatic animals take the conservation spotlight). If the numbers of such animals are not tracked, they may get pushed to extinction.

This makes the survey all the more relevant!

How is the census being taken?

The researchers are looking at animals anywhere between the sizes of dik-dik and elephants.

That’s a dik-dik. Image: Wikipedia

For smaller animals, the researchers will use camera traps. These cameras are like regular cameras but GPS enabled. They will be camouflaged well in appropriate habitats.

The team suspects that pangolins are present in Amboseli National Park as pangolins have been found in Tsava National Park which is very close to Amboseli. But there has been no direct sightings. Also, pangolins are one of the highest trafficked species in Africa so their numbers need to be known to know the extent of the problem.

Larger animals like giraffes and hippos, will be counted from the air by trained wildlife researchers.

Wildlife researcher Cedric Khalaye at the Wildlife Research and Training Institute in Kenya surveys animals. Image: The World

Researchers spend five hours in small planes counting animals in their sightings. They record data on paper and in audio recordings.

From that distance, even massive elephants look like tiny specks. So you can imagine how difficult this must be!

The researchers count up to ten members of a species. Beyond that, they take photographs of the sighting to get the exact number. As Khalaye (right) notes, anything less than ten can be counted easily.

The census will cover all of Kenya’s wildlife hotspots including the Amboseli and Tsava National Parks.

The final census will be prepared by the end of the year. Kenya also hopes to do this every five years.

With excerpts from The World