A Heartening Surge for Kenya’s Wildlife Population

By Sarah Gold October 27, 2021

The results of Kenya’s first-ever nationwide wildlife census are in, and the news is excellent—for both animals and the travellers who want to see them. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, the populations of several of the country’s most cherished and threatened species—including elephants, rhinos, and lions—have increased since they were last recorded.

elephants in kenya
What is cuter than a baby elephant? Two baby elephants! Photo by Tristan Pinto

The report completed in late August, 2021, found that the number of elephants in Kenya has increased by 12 percent in the past seven years to 36,169 animals, while the lion population has increased by 25 percent in the past decade to 2,589. The numbers of white and black rhinos also rose steeply since 2017—by about 38 percent, to a combined total of 1,739—while the giraffe population jumped a whopping 49 percent (to 34,240), just since 2019.

The encouraging upswing is a sure sign that Kenya’s vigorous efforts to curb poaching are having an impact. In recent years, the government has passed legislation imposing harsher punishments for poachers, and also empowered the Kenya Wildlife Service to step up anti-poaching tactics through a variety of means—including more comprehensive anti-poaching training programs; more advanced tracking technology and forensic research to help bring poachers to justice; and (critically) getting local communities involved in anti-poaching initiatives. Many of these measures have been implemented at game parks and private preserves (such as Lewa Conservancy) where tourist dollars now go directly toward anti-poaching efforts.

These strategies were largely adopted after Kenya’s wildlife population figures were last reported in 2014, when poaching activity was at its peak. At that point the African Wildlife Foundation made the dire prediction that between poaching and other factors like habitat loss due to climate change, the country’s elephants might disappear within a decade.

Collecting data for the 2021 wildlife census was a monumental effort, in which more than 100 personnel from government agencies, conservation organizations, private conservancies, and local communities were enlisted to cover all 58 of the country’s national parks—some 133,000 square miles of habitat, or almost 60 percent of Kenya’s land mass. They used an array of methods, including ground and GPS-aided tracking, camera traps, aircraft, and boats to get accurate population counts for over 30 different wildlife species.

The resulting data, said Kenyan authorities, will allow the country to further refine its efforts to protect its extraordinary biodiversity—which has made Kenya one of the world’s top destinations for wildlife enthusiasts.

“As the world grapples with both climate change and human activities that threaten botanical and zoological life as well as their habitats, Kenya is leading the way by implementing bold and decisive actions to conserve and promote our ecological wealth,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in a statement accompanying the census results. “Kenya’s heritage of natural beauty and scenic splendor is made infinitely richer because of our diverse wildlife.”

To learn more about the remarkable wildlife species that make their homes in Kenya and other parts of East Africa—or, even better, to plan a trip to see them yourself—start by speaking with one of Micato’s safari experts.

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