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Relocation of 7000 zebra, wildebeest under way

March 5, 2010

Part of the herd of zebras during the translocation exercise from Soysambu Conservancy to Amboseli National Park. The ongoing exercise is aimed at restocking the park after last year's devastating drought.

Wildlife officials in Kenya have undertaken the capture and relocation of 7000 zebra and wildebeest to restock Amoboseli National park.

The Kenya Wildlife Service aimed to restore the predator-prey balance in the park, following the fiercest drought in 26 years that devastated the ecosystem last year.

The exercise, estimated to cost $US1.35 million, was expected to substantially address some of the problems arising from last year's severe drought in many parts of Kenya.

The first phase, targeting 1000 zebras, was to have ended on Sunday. Subsequent phases will include wildebeests, which could not be moved because the exercise coincided with their calving season.

A 26-member capture team is at the heart of the operation. It comprises a helicopter pilot, technicians, drivers, capture officers and rangers. They have three trucks capable of carrying up to 90 wild animals each.

The capture team recently successfully relocated 250 elephants from Shimba Hills to Tsavo, and 2000 herbivores from Marua Ranch in Naivasha to Maru National Park.

Amboseli National Park, a dry season feeding refugee for wild animals, normally attracts thousands of herbivores which congregate within its boundaries during the dry season and later migrate to other outlying areas at the onset of the wet season.

Last year's devastating drought attracted many herbivores in the park that resulted in overgrazing. This led to the deaths of over 60 per cent of the zebra and wildebeest population.

These deaths severely compromised the ecological balance of the park and its surrounding areas.

A census conducted in October 2009 showed that there were only 3023 wildebeests and 2467 zebras, a sharp drop from similar census carried out in 2007 that indicated 12,411 and 6978 wildebeests and zebras, respectively.

The two animal species are the most preferred prey of the lions and hyenas and their subsequent fall in numbers led to the carnivores invading and killing livestock owned by communities living around the park, compounding a problem given that already they had lost up to 80 per cent of their livestock to the drought.

This led to a sharp increase in human wildlife conflict incidents in the area.

To address the local community's concerns over loss of livelihood, the Kenya Wildlife Service held at least 18 meetings with the residents to discuss various interventions, including the restocking.

Others include the building of predator-proof structures to protect livestock from carnivores as well as other appropriate animal husbandry practices. This will be done in due course.

Amboseli National Park and its surrounding areas are one of the key tourist destinations in Kenya as well as critical conservation points.

The death of lions from human-wildlife conflict and loss of livelihood by the local community would serious undermine conservation and tourism promotion efforts.

Human-wildlife conflict has been one of the major factors behind the rapid decline of the lion population in Kenya.

Dr Charles Musyoki, a senior scientist with the wildlife service, said the restocking aimed at restoring the balance of wild animals within the park and at the same time reduce cases of human-wildlife conflict by reducing the lion and hyena attacks on the local community's livestock.

Apart from the Soysambu Conservancy, other areas where a relocation exercise is expected to take place include Machakos, Shompole in Kajiado and the Athi-Kapiti plains.

The subsequent phases of the exercise are expected to be carried out between March and June. The translocation of the wildebeests has been set for later this month due to their ongoing calving season that would have compromised the exercise.

The relocation is carried out by aerial and ground teams. The aerial team in a helicopter identifies pockets of the target animals and drives them into the broad end of a tarpaulin funnel-shaped camouflaged structure.

The 26-member ground team drives them through an enclosure leading to the back of a waiting truck.



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