Elephants are the world’s largest land animals and they’re highly intelligent and sensitive creatures. They also play a key role in the biodiversity of the planet and are critical to the survival of many other species. Sadly, they’re also under threat, with African elephants now on the Critically Endangered list. In this article, we’ll look at why elephants are at risk and how the ‘Free to Roam’ Project is helping to amend the wildlife-human conflict in Kenya.
Elephants are Endangered
Several factors have contributed to elephants becoming an endangered species. One of the biggest threats to elephants is illegal poaching for ivory. This is exacerbated by their slow reproductive rate, with a female elephant taking around fourteen years to mature so that she’s ready to reproduce and then an additional 22 months to give birth when pregnant, making it near impossible for elephants to repopulate their dwindling numbers.
Elephants, like many species, also face threats from climate change, which has led to dwindling, damaged and broken-up habitats. This reduces their ability to roam and find food and can also lead to fighting when food is scarce.
Another significant threat comes from the risk of retaliatory attacks by humans. When humans encroach on their habitat, elephants can end up venturing onto farmland and eating or destroying crops, leading to them being killed by farmers. This is where the Free to Roam project comes in.
The Free to Roam Project
The overall aim of the Free to Roam Project is to allow elephants and other wildlife to thrive in harmony with the local community.
Statistics from the WWF show that the African elephant population has fallen from 12 million a century ago, to 400,000 today and in recent years alone, around 20,000 elephants are killed in Africa each year for their tusks. Over 1,693 elephants were driven out of small-scale farmlands in the Tsavo National Park area in 2021 alone.
CEO of Tsavo Trust, Richard Moller, explains:
“The one major challenge we can’t get away from is growing populations that are encroaching more and more into what was once wildlife habitat. This brings a magnitude of different issues such as human-wildlife conflict.”
Human-elephant conflict can lead to loss of income for farmers, property damage, and in some extreme cases, even costs lives. That’s why, together with Kenyan conservation experts, Tsavo Trust and the Tofauti Foundation, The Exodus Travels Foundation are empowering Tsavo communities, to give 90% of the land back to nature while increasing food security through permaculture on the remaining 10%.
This project provides members of the surrounding community with permaculture training to improve their crop yields and livelihoods without conflict between themselves and local wildlife, including elephants, which are then free to roam on the remaining land.
Stories of Success
To date, the Free to Roam Project has delivered permaculture training to 18 local people, giving them a better understanding of soil and water. By collecting soil samples, they were able to understand the nutritional value of their crops and share their learnings with others. This has led to a greater diversity of crops, and better water preservation, enabling them to implement best practices in agriculture. A survey showed an average of a 528% increase in crop yield following the implementation of the project.
Since the fences were completed, they have also been 100% effective in protecting crops from elephants passing through, eliminating human-wildlife conflict in the area to the benefit of both the local people and the elephant population.