Once again, the Kenyan Wildlife Service has demonstrated field science capabilities that far exceed its size, putting to shame better known wildlife NGOs like the WWF.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that a foundation of almost all field science is a census of the things you’re studying? Yet except for recent work by the KWS in Kenya, East Africa has had no reliable animal counts for years.
The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is the only organization that puts out wild animal numbers with any regularity, and they admit in doing so that they are “guesses” and not compiling true field censuses. The FZS 2007 annual report claimed to fund a large census project, but the project basically was to analyze census techniques rather than actually counting animals.
The KWS has released detailed census numbers on a variety of animals over the years. The most recent census was of Grevy’s zebra and elephant in the Laikipia region of central/northwest Kenya. It will have a profound impact. The numbers of both animals are increasing very fast. This even while other NGOs are claiming Grevy’s zebra are decreasing. These are the first hard numbers to be seen in several years.
How on earth can researchers proceed with animal conservation programs, without knowing simple numbers of the animals?
The last good lion census was in 1990. The FZS conducted a hippo survey in 2006. There have been numerous censuses of mountain gorillas. AND … that’s about it! Until last year’s KWS census.
Much of the problem is political. Animal censuses, even within certain protected wilderness areas, come under the authority of the government gazetting that protected area. It’s often an embarrassment when the government is incapable of even contributing to such a project, so.. they end up stonewalling it.
In many cases, the regions that require a good animal census extend into several different regional areas, involving multiple authorities. And to really make matters difficult, these are often served by competing NGOs, each anxious for the citation.
Somehow, the KWS got through all this. And a good list of good NGOs are those who assisted them: African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Saint Louis Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Zuercher Tierschutz, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Marwell Conservation and the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. If anyone were to now ask me to advise what wildlife organizations are good ones, I’d go to this list.
Jim – Another factor that causes hindrance for these critically needed animal censuses is the obtainment of adequate funding. Grant bodies are more prone to reward funds to long-term ‘conservation / community programs’ and behavioral studies.
I am a wildlife conservationist, currently ‘on the quest’ for sufficient funding for a long-overdue ‘cheetah census’ in south eastern Kenya, and this is what I have experienced. KWS is one of my affiliate organizations for the study and yes, they understand the importance of reliable population estimates, but they rarely contribute financially to the censuses themselves.