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THE ROLE OF WILDLIFE DISPERSAL CORRIDORS IN WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT

Globally, one of the main biodiversity challenges is the loss of connectivity in wildlife conservation areas mainly due to human-induced factors that exert pressure on land and water resources. Indeed, many protected areas are too small to maintain viable populations of African wildlife. Despite diverse species inhabiting savannas and have for a long time had expansive habitats to utilize, the savanna ecosystem is increasingly under threat from habitat fragmentation and loss of wildlife dispersal areas to agriculture and human settlement.

Land fragmentation represents an obstacle to maintaining ecological connectivity and viable wildlife populations. Reduced landscape connectivity and impeded movements may result in higher mortality, lower population viability and lower production leading to smaller populations. In view of their great mobility and extensive spatial requirements for survival, large mammals are vulnerable to fragmentation effects.

The fragmentation effects result when animals within populations are unable to cross to connecting habitats, access mates or other biological requirements. These effects have underscored the need to maintain and restore essential movements of wildlife species particularly those with high traffic volumes, it is for this reason that wildlife corridors are constructed.

 

CORRIDORS/FENCE GAPS AND USE OF CAMERA TRAPS FOR MONITORING AT OL PEJETA CONSERVANCY

Infrared cameras used at the fence gaps to monitor wildlife traffic in and out of the conservancy coloured pictures taken during the daytime while black and white at night

A wildlife corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures such as roads development or logging. This allows an exchange of individuals between population, which may help prevent the negative effect of inbreeding and may moderate some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation.

Elephants Entering OL Pejeta from Mutara using the corridor

 The OL Pejeta Conservancy has well-modified wildlife corridors/ fence gaps classified according to their width indirectly proportional to size and number of animals using it. All animals are free to more in and out of the conservancy by way of specially constructed game corridors that only restrict the movement of rhinos knee high post in the ground, situated very close together present no challenge for elephant rates, antelope and carnivores that are easily able to jump or step over. Rhinos are unable to do this and as a result, are restricted from moving into areas where they are in danger of being slaughtered for their horn it also operates a successful livestock program which serves to benefits local pastoralist and wildlife. 

 The OlPejeta conservancy have got three constructed corridor  located on the Northern part of the conservancy with the reason being that to the Southern part of it there is small scale farming taking place by the local communities inhibited the area, the northern corridors enable dispersal of wildlife to the greater Laikipia ecosystem thus increasing their probability of survival and range while at the same time reducing pressure on the conservancy.

Connectivity is essential between adjacent conservation areas

 Advantages of the corridors

  •   They  allow the wild animals to have the freedom of movement in and out the other protected areas such as Mt. Kenya National Park, Mutara ranch, Solio ranch
  • They help prevent inbreeding of animal in order to acquire strong genes from other species of animals away from the protected area
  •    Helps the conservancy to acquire species of animal that they don’t have on  their records of wild animal species of OlPejeta through the aid of the camera traps
  •     Help elephants from breaking the fence thus promoting good wildlife management techniques

         Help in developing the checklist of wild animals within the protected area this is done through monitoring the footprints of the wild animals in the process of animals moving in and out of the protected area and through the images captured by the cameras which operate even at night.

    

            Although game corridor has numerous advantages there are still some challenges in line with the management such as:

  • Competition for natural resources such as food, space, cover and water 
  • Disease reservoir for livestock example zoonosis  transmission of disease can be from livestock to   wild animal 
  • Livestock predation example is lion predating against cow  

           

Connectivity within adjacent conservation areas is inevitable, fence gaps are the best alternatives

           Way forward 

 Wildlife corridors are not proposed as mitigation for loss of core habitat.  However, with careful planning and design, wildlife corridors can help reduce the negative effects of habitat fragmentation by allowing dispersal of individuals between large patches of remaining habitat.  While additional study on the efficacy of wildlife corridors is necessary, some general principles of evaluation and design are available and should be implemented.  Monitoring the use of corridors by target wildlife species is an important step in corridor planning, to allow for adaptive management. 

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Carcass identification and ageing skills

Rangers come across carcasses in the wild on almost a daily basis. Be it a predator kill, natural death, poaching among many other causes during their daily patrols. But not just rangers, ecologists, researchers and my targeted persons Tour Guides do as well, it is of critical importance to report any mortality sighting to the authority of the conservation area, be it a Park, Reserve or private conservation area. You might help detect a disease outbreak, typically if its a predator kill there will be clues if not the predator then scavengers: hyenas, jackals or vultures circulating the site from above or already on the ground.

Back to my guides who provide vital opportunistic sightings of mortalities its always of much help if you can roughly estimate the period that the animal is presumed to have been dead for, now this is why I have decided to take time and come up with a few leads that can help give a rough estimate of the carcass decomposition stages, from a fresh carcass to a very old one.

If you’re in the field of mammalian research be it carnivores or the herbivores you will definitely find this article quite handy.

1 Day old Elephant Carcass

Determining sex of dead elephant

Patrol teams can determine the sex of a dead elephant by examining the animal’s body, tusks, and/ or skull as follows

Fresh body.

– If you have a complete fresh body, you may be able to determine sex from body shape.

Male; shoulder height above rump and this sloped shape becomes more prominent with age.

Female; Shoulder and rump remains same height but back elongates and shows saddle back, becomes more prominent.

 

Fresh Elephant carcass description (0-3 weeks)

-Complete carcass present.

-Evidence of scavenger activity (droppings of scavengers, e.g. Vultures, hyenas, etc.)

-Round swollen body with decomposition fluids flowing from the carcass.

-The possible presence of maggots.

-Wet intestines within the body or around it.

-Wet skin and visible rot patches.

-A strong smell from the decomposing carcass.

-If tusks are present, they will be firmly secured in the skull, if removed the hack marks are fresh.

Fresh Carcass

 

Carcass Description

-Pool of blood in the carcass.

-Meat still intact in the bones.

-Presence of a predator preying on the carcass.

12 Hour Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Pool of blood around the carcass.

-Flesh beneath skin giving rounded appearance.

– Some internal organs remaining, very minimal damage to bones

1-week Old Carcass

Carcass Description

–  This is a recent kill, with blood still present in the bone.

– Less meat and skin on bones.

-No blood or fluid seen.

– Rot patch dry around carcass.

4 – Month Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Flesh has been totally cleaned and it is turning greyish.

-Less meat on the bones.

-Bare ground around carcass

– Body not rounded or swollen, shrunken.

– No strong smell from the carcass.

– Some bones may still be attached to the skin but easily detachable.

6- Month Old Carcass

– Change of color i.e. whitish-greyish

– Less meat and skin on bones.

– No blood or fluid seen.

– Some bones may be joined to tissues.

– Absence of vegetation within the death spot.

– Death spot dry, absence of body fluids and stomach contents present.

-No fresh or recent signs of scavengers.

-Dry, desiccated skin.

1 Year Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Bones are ‘White and growing’ in sunlight

-Vegetation has regrown around the carcass.

-No signs of body tissues.

– Bones may be scattered away from original death spot.

– Very little tissue noticeable attached to the bones.

– There may be little movement of bones from the original death spot due to scavengers.

Description of very old Carcass (More than 1 year)

– Bones are becoming increasingly grey in colour.

– Bones are cracking and crumbling.

– Bones usually scattered further away from the original point of death.

– Grey and cracked bones

Difficulties in Assigning Carcass Age stages

Old vs. Very Old

– The onset of colouration is dependent on environmental and climatic factors.

– May be difficult to distinguish white from grey bones in certain habitats.

Recent vs. Old

– Rot patch development depending on the size of the animal, the physical conditions of the death spot (rocky conditions, river bed, swamp etc) human and other wildlife interference.

– The lack of any tissue on the bones should indicate’old’ where there are problems in determining the status of a rot patch.

– Using external characteristics such as external genitalia. Soft external genitalia are, however, the first body part consumed by mammalian scavengers thus these may disappear or be modified very quickly after death.