Encompassing over 200,000 acres, Eselengei is the northernmost tract of intact wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro (Greater Amboseli) ecosystem in southern Kenya. With every year, its importance and the need to conserve it is growing. Over the years, Big Life Foundation’s rangers have played a central role in controlling poaching and making the Greater Amboseli ecosystem a safer place. As a result, animals—especially elephants—are now venturing further from Amboseli National Park and deeper into Eselengei. They are also staying there for longer. This safe zone is not just important for elephants; Eselengei is also a stronghold of the ecosystem’s lion population, as well as home to a wide diversity of other species. However, Eselengei is surrounded by communities that are not always friendly to wildlife. Poachers, targeting bushmeat and sometimes ivory, operate along its northern boundaries, frequently picking off animals in the areas outside of the existing conservancy that lies within Eselengei. In 2018, five elephants were speared to death in a series of horrific events.
In response, Big Life plans to expand its successful wildlife protection and conservation model to Eselengei. This includes adding two permanent ranger outposts, fully equipped and manned by recruits from the Eselengei community, and supported by a Land Cruiser vehicle that will allow for rapid response to emergencies. These rangers will not just work to protect wildlife on Eselengei (often by providing support to the people who share this space), but will also respond when animals cross the invisible barrier into neighboring ‘hostile’ territory.
Also, Big Life will implement its Predator Compensation Fund (PCF) to Eselengei. The fund provides livestock owners with financial compensation for all verified losses of their animals to the ecosystem’s wild predators. This program has been immensely successful over the years, helping to increase the lion population throughout the ecosystem.
ince 2008, there has been a massively increased demand for ivory from China and the Far East. As many as 35,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered, 10% of Africa’s elephant population each year alone.
The Amboseli ecosystem harbours one of the two greatest population of elephants left in East Africa. Until BLF came on the scene in late 2010, Amboseli was experiencing a dramatic surge in poaching. For an ecosystem of such importance and uniqueness, Amboseli was strangely forgotten in terms of wildlife protection, suffering badly from insufficient funding from both government and (the very few) non-profit organizations in the region.
With this in mind, and in order to attempt to stop the destruction of this extraordinary ecosystem and its animals, Big Life Foundation was established in October 2010.
The Amboseli ecosystem became Big Life’s pilot large-scale initiative project, operating on the ground, collaborating closely with local communities, partner NGO’s, national parks and government agencies, particularly the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Multiple fully-equipped teams of rangers have been placed in newly-built outposts in the most critical, vulnerable areas throughout the region. So far, within just two years of inception, BLF has 250 trained rangers, 46 ranger units, 5 mobile units, 13 vehicles, one airplane, 5 tracker dogs, latest technology equipment, and a large informer network.
Since 2010, BLF has made 2438 arrests, seized 3578 poaching tools and poaching rates of elephants were constantly reduced: 7 cases in 2013, 2 in 2014, 2 in 2015 and 1 in 2016.
This new level of co-ordinated protection for the ecosystem has brought about a major, dramatic reduction in poaching of ALL animals in the region. The fact that every ranger comes from the local communities only strengthens that link between Big Life and the communities, with each helping the other in vital ways.
Mayoyo Kutata is lucky to be alive. Last week, the 30-year-old mother of four was herding the family goats in the late afternoon and stopped to chop some wood for the evening cooking. Caught up in the routine of these daily tasks, she didn’t notice the giant shadows.
Too late, she realized that she was surrounded by elephants, and panicked and ran. One of the elephants chased her, knocking her into a bush with a swing of its trunk. The elephant backed off, but turned and charged again. This time she screamed and the sound startled the rest of the herd. Thankfully, they all ran and the charging elephant diverted its course to run with them.
Others have not been so lucky. Big Life has recorded 11 people killed by elephants in the greater Amboseli ecosystem since the start of 2016, including two people killed in 2017 already. This is a tragedy, made even more emotional when the victims are children.
In many cases the community has taken matters into their own hands. Big Life recorded just one elephant poached in our area of operation in 2016, but unfortunately this phenomenal success was tempered by the tragic retaliatory deaths of 19 elephants that happened as a result of these conflicts (many of these were euthanized). This is the biggest future challenge for the elephants of Amboseli – not elephants killed by poachers, but elephants killed by humans in conflict with them.
Violent conflict does nothing for human-elephant relations, already strained due to the economic losses suffered by local farmers losing their crops to elephants. Big Life is doing what we can to help alleviate the pain caused by the loss of human life, working to find employment opportunities for members of the families of the deceased, as well as looking for educational scholarships for the sons and daughters of those who died. Big Life is also working in partnership with all local stakeholders, including government, community, and NGO’s, to put in place rapid response measures, so as to minimize the chances of unnecessary injury or death to both humans and elephants.