Once in danger of being wiped out by poachers, elephants have overrun a Kenyan coastal preserve. They've raided nearby farms and even attacked villagers, forcing wildlife authorities there to move about 400 of them to a bigger game park farther inland in Africa's largest-ever elephant relocation.
A family of five elephants was the first to be relocated Friday from the coastal Shimba Hills National Reserve to the much larger Tsavo East park about 150 kilometers farther inland. About 400 more pachyderms will be sent packing by Kenyan wildlife rangers.
Kenyan wildlife officials say it's the world's largest-ever elephant relocation.
About 600 elephants had overrun the tiny Shimba Hills National Reserve, just south of the Indian Ocean port city Mombasa. Some of the elephants had taken to raiding farms, gobbling crops of mango and cassava and bananas, and threatening anyone who stands in their way.
The reserve is supposed to accommodate about 200 elephants, but the elephant population has soared in recent years, causing massive deforestation. The Tsavo East region, where the elephants are being moved, lost most of its elephant population to poachers during the 1970s and 80s.
Edward Indakwa is the spokesman for the Kenyan Wildlife Service, which officially launched the $3 million operation Friday. "We have a lot of conflict problems with communities," he noted. "People have been injured, crops have been destroyed. And apart from that, the ecosystem itself is really choking from that population of elephants. We are talking about an extra 400 elephants. That's too big for the ecosystem."
Ranchers and farmers near the Tsavo East National Park are concerned that Kenya's wildlife service is just transplanting the elephant problem. They want assurances that their ranches and farms are protected from elephant intrusions.
"All of them have been radio-collared so we will be able to monitor them using GPS [Global Positioning System], and move our rangers in to drive them away before they can break into private farmland," explained Mr. Indakwa. "We have dug five water holes in the area near the release site. Mostly, [these] problems lead to the pack to go outside in search of water. With water assured there, that problem will be minimized."
In addition to the water holes, Kenya's wildlife service erected a 41-kilometer electric fence to discourage the elephants from wandering near community farms.
Kenyan game rangers plan to move more families of elephants on Sunday.