Wildlife and waterhole monitoring on Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary – Why we do it…
April 11th, 2012 by Dipesh
We don’t often blog about our wildlife conservation programs in Kenya but that is not to say that it is any less important than all the other community and environmental work we are involved with. Since Steve Mwasi relocated to Camp Tsavo, he has been determined to create more structure to what we do and ensure what we are doing contributes to the overall conservation program that our partners who run Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary are deeply involved with. After some discussions with Dr. Mwangi who heads up the Wildlife research on Rukinga, we revisited our wildlife monitoring program and how we collect data and for what purpose. Steve Mwasi is now our main Wildlife Program Coordinator and recounts what we have been doing for the past eight months at Camp Tsavo…
Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife corridor linking Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park, so it falls under the Tsavo Ecosystem. Most areas within this ecosystem experience arid and semi-arid climate with rainfall being sporadic and patchy. Water is a critical resource in Tsavo and its distribution determines the movement of mammalian species with the Acacia Commiphora being the dominant tree species in the area.
The number of different species of wildlife on Rukinga varies between dry season and rainy season. Wildlife species have adapted, so that they are able to satisfy their demand during both seasons. One of the possible means, which wildlife have used for long time to cope with the changes in the ecosystem, is through migration. Thus, the main purpose of monitoring widlife is to establish the population dynamics on the sanctuary. This involves physical counting of wildlife species, identifying sex as well as number of individuals. This data is then collated together with the GPS coordinates where those species have been spotted.
Our new Wildlife Monitoring program at Camp Tsavo began in July 2011 and all our groups who visit are very much involved and very important to the process. Data is collected during game drives in the sanctuary in which case the game drives routes are split into transects so as to avoid backtracking and ensure accuracy of data. So far 17 trips specifically for wildlife monitoring have been done and the data collected handed over to the Wildlife Works Research Department. During the initial stages of data collection the area was going through a dry spell and the vegetation was not dense, hence animals could easily be spotted from a distance. As water is available in troughs and tanks, sitings during this period are quite common.
Initially, during the game drives, wildlife species counted involved mammals but we later started including raptors (Birds of prey). Game drives are mostly done in the afternoon as from 3.30pm up to 6.00pm due to the fact that the animals will be hidden away under shelter during the midday sun and will come out to the waterholes when it is cooler.
Wildlife species such as Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Buffaloes, Elands, Kudus, Gerenuks, Warthogs, Impalas, Gazelles and Dikdiks, Baboons were regularly counted. In terms of Cat Species, lions and Cheetah sightings were counted but not regularly. Raptors spotted regularly were the Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle and Tawny Eagle.
With the onset of short rains as from October to December the ranch vegetation changed drastically. Vegetation became dense and natural waterholes filled up. This impacted on the movement of wildlife such that chances of spotting and counting wildlife reduced. Some of the roads on the ranch also became impassable (and just one of the reasons why we also spend some time maitaining the roads) so there was not much wildlife monitoring during this period.
The short rains stopped in December 2011 and as from January 2012 the ranch vegetation was still green and most of the waterholes were filled with water. However, the dry season began hitting again in February and some waterholes dried up and vegetation density reduced. Wildlife sightings improved and as per the monitoring we did within this period, we saw an increase on wildlife distributions in the portion of transects we have covered. We are still carrying on with data collection and we will certainly have more understanding of the wildilfe distribution after Wildlife Works research department has developed the data base.
We managed to start monitoring waterholes at the beginning of this year. Due to the good short rains most of the waterholes filled up. We have been focusing primarily on natural waterholes in which case they can be classified as scrapes/water pans, medium waterholes and large waterholes and are able to retain water for two to three months. The amount of water available will of course vary due to meteorological and soil factors as well as the intensity of use by wildlife. The main purpose of conducting waterhole monitoring was to try and determine the level of diversity of wildlife that use the waterholes on Rukinga as well as to investigate the patterns of waterhole visitation by different species. So far we have done 2 sessions and we have first targeted waterholes which are near our camp. Data collected includes time taken to drink, sex of the species and number of individuals. Species recorded include Elephants, Giraffes as well as birds’ species such as the African fish eagle.
We will keep you posted as the data starts to reveal patterns.
Steve Mwasi (Wildlife Program Coordinator, Camp Kenya)