Magazine article Geographical

Uncharted Africa

Magazine article Geographical

Uncharted Africa

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, population growth in Kenya has put enormous pressure on East Africa and the wildlife under increasing threat of extinction. However, a number of innovative projects are now underway to try and reverse the trend

One of Kenya's many conservation programmes is being run in the gardens of Giraffe Manor, a guesthouse in the Nairobi suburb of Karen. Here the unique sub-species, the Rothschild's giraffe, characterised by its own pattern of spots and geographical distribution, is being conserved by the park's owners, Rick and Bryony Anderson.

"In 1974, there were only 130 [Rothschild's giraffe] left in Kenya and they were on [just] One 1,800 acre cattle ranch which was due for subdivision for settling the landless in the area," explains Rick Anderson. "Over the years we were able to move four different breeding groups to four different national parks and now there are about 400 in protected areas."

One of these areas is in Uganda where numbers dropped significantly over the years when Idi Amin was in power. Food was scarce for his vast armies and the soldiers were forced to eat the Rothchild's giraffe, which provided enough meat to feed a small company. Today, Giraffe Manor sends 30 giraffes a year to various game parks in the country in an effort to repatriate and rehabilitate this once common animal. Although the Rothschild's giraffe is safe in the confines of Giraffe Manor, its prospects are less certain in the increasingly threatened parks of East Africa.

Adjoining the Giraffe Manor property is Hog Ranch, the home of artist, socialite and controversial author Peter Beard. In the 1970s his book, The End of the Game, described the starvation of large numbers of elephants in Tsavo National Park. This, he believes, was caused when elephant hunting became illegal -- the elephant population soared and then the food ran out.

"It's not easy to manage wildlife but when you surround it with fences and barriers you have to manage it," says Beard. "At some point, you have to cull over-populations and there is just a huge gap between wildlife management people, long term vision and Walt Disney, which is short-term, sentimental, fundraising trickery."

Beard's views are diametrically opposed to those of a well-known operation nearby: the Sheldrick Wildlife Orphanage. Since 1977, it has raised 13 orphaned elephants.

"When you raise an elephant you need staying power as it's such a long term project," says Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the orphanage. "They are not full grown until they are 20, you've got to think [of raising them] in human terms."

Two weeks ago, a small male elephant, Sekanani was rescued from a flooded river. When he was brought in he was barely conscious, having been submerged in the water for over eight hours. At the Sheldrick Wildlife Orphanage, the workers are doing all they can to rehabilitate him; this includes trying to get him to eat his staple diet of elephant dung. When Sekanani is a year old, he will be moved to Tsavo and then integrated with 13 other orphans that have preceded him through the nursery. Here he will continue to grow and eventually make contact with the wild herds when he is approximately five years old. The plan is that he will eventually find elephants more stimulating than humans and then wander to and fro between the orphanage and the elephant herds until he reaches puberty between 12 and 15 years old.

Sekanani was lucky the flooded river did not claim his life. …

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