Late last year Kenya opened a wildlife corridor allowing elephants to safely cross under a busy road. Not until January 1st did an elephant bull named Tony successfully use the underpass. Since Tony’s initial walk, over three dozen elephants have used the route which reconnects Mount Kenya’s highlands and the lower forests and plains. The area has long been divided by increasing development of villages and farm areas. Developers think part of the solution for humans and animals to happily coexist is through the wildlife corridor project.
Increased pressure to find solutions for humans and animals to coexist have continually mounted in Africa. Due to human development many villages are built on one time wildlife land. With humans taking over land that belonged to elephants (and other wild animals), numerous reports of elephants walking close to homes and scaring villagers are reported. Further the large mammals destroy farmer’s crops. But, elephants cannot be to blame. Growth of human population has created fragmentation in their habitat. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, stated that “if African wildlife is to survive, solutions must be found of this nature, where connectivity is preserved through corridors.”
The wildlife corridor project took ten years in the making. Collaboration efforts between The Nature Conservancy, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Mount Kenya Trust and Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson brought the $1 million development to life. Branson’s donation of $250,000 sparked donation efforts by both private and public donors. The $250,000 underpass provided the key element in connecting long divided elephant herds. But, money was only half the battle in completing the project. Land also needed to be donated and two major farmers contributed a substantial amount of acreage. One family farm, Kisima’s Farm, donated at least 671 acres.
Many were skeptical that elephants would use a man made path. In fact, project developers where unsure how to entice the large mammals through the tunnel. Charlie Dyer, owner-manager of Kisima’s Farm, went so far as to spread fresh elephant dung as an attempt of persuasion. However, reports claim there was no need to worry. Elephants gathered at the passage open in anticipation of using the crossing system. Dyer said he is overjoyed to see elephants using the route.
In May 2008 construction began with the erection of predator-proof fences. The final project provides elephants with a 15-foot-high tunnel that stretches for nine miles following a traditional migration route. Completion of the underpass means two distinct elephant groups near Mount Kenya will be reunited; 2,000 elephants on Mt. Kenya’s highlands and 5,000 elephants in the forests and plains. Hopes are high the united populations will breed, replenishing struggling elephant populations.
The corridor is a new and exciting system to protect elephants from busy developments along with saving farmer’s crops. Though the underpass is the first of its kind in Africa, the design has been used since the 1950s. France holds the honor of creating the first wildlife crossing. Since its development, crossing systems are becoming more popular with countries such as China and India taking advantage of the design. The United States is even working on a crossing in Vail, Colorado to help reduce collisions between cars and deer, coyote and bighorn sheep.
Sadly, despite the excitement of the successful wildlife corridor, poaching in Africa continues to rise. Ivory has increased in value and is especially desired in Chinese markets. According to the Elephant Voices website, a website dedicated to stopping elephant poaching, 38,000 elephants may be killed annually for their tusks. Conservationists continue to search for poaching solutions, but in the meantime Save the Elephants is using GPS collars on several elephants to track movements.
Photo Credit: aphis.usda.gov/educational_games/multichoice/