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.
The Chyulu Hills rhino population is of critical value to rhino conservation at an international level. The population is one of the very few genetically independent populations of Eastern Black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) left in East Africa today.
Of additional significance is the habitat itself, highly suitable to Black rhinos in terms of forage and space availability. The entire hill range represents an opportunity for the growth of the population and offers a significant step in rhino conservation on a national level.
The Chyulu Hills cover an area of over 400 km2, the 4th largest National Park in Kenya, with a huge potential for the future of rhino conservation. This National Park belongs to the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro ecosystem and offers next to rhinos also a large variety of other species feeding grounds during the dry season.
Approximately 80% of the rhinos’ range falls within the Chyulu Hills National Park, a heavily vegetated line of volcanic hills; the remaining 20% falls on the neighbouring Mbirikani Group Ranch, a Maasai collective comprising about 10,000 households and their livestock, which is part of the greater Amboseli- Kilimanjaro – Tsavo Conservation Area. The Chyulus’ rhinos are monitored and protected by rangers from the Big Life Foundation. BLF works in tandem with the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) and has been operating successfully in this area for the past 20 years.
Given the above mentioned facts, the Chyulu Hills represent an exciting opportunity for progress in terms of rhino conservation and growing the Kenyan meta-population to targeted level. During the next year, the aim for the Chyulu Hills is to become an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ). This step is necessary to facilitate the translocation of other rhino to this unique population and therefore the ongoing survival of the remaining population.
Poaching presents a huge threat to not only painted dogs but also all wildlife in the so-called “buffer zone” surrounding Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Large predators such as lion and hyena are also particularly vulnerable as they often scavenge from snare lines and indeed can be targeted deliberately. As the socioeconomic situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, pressures that drive poaching are escalating. Unemployment levels have reached new heights and with the majority of people in the region depending on erratic rainfalls, simply to survive at a subsistence level, they turn to illegal hunting practises.
The situation is deteriorating rapidly as highlighted by the recent outbreak of poaching with cyanide. Indeed a pack of nine painted dogs were recently found dead at a waterhole poisoned with cyanide. This new threat to carnivores is likely to increase as a result of the use of cyanide because of the scavenging done the carcasses left behind by the cyanide poachers.
The lack of recourse available to Zimbabwe’s Parks & Wildlife Management Authority exacerbates this dire situation. Poachers have enjoyed virtually unrestricted access to areas such as Dete, Ngamo and Tchotcholo, from which they have been able to move freely deep inside Hwange National Park. Poaching snares kill large animals indiscriminately, and the practice is threatening to decimate the small surviving populations of threatened species, many of which are already facing pressures of extinction through habitat destruction and climate change. The recent increase in the use of poisons such as cyanide further complicates the issue and there is dire need for a reliable informant network to be established.