The Elephant Underpass
In January 2011, a pioneering bull elephant named Tony took one small step forward for his species. In fact, the project that brought Tony to this momentous place and time began in 2010, when the Mount Kenya Trust led a group of other concerned businesses and conservation organizations including Lewa to build an elephant migration corridor through the Conservancy and Ngare Ndare Forest up to the forests of Mount Kenya.
Several goals drove this project. The primary objective behind the corridor was to reduce human-wildlife conflict. Elephants are incredibly destructive and in an area where most people rely on subsistence farming to survive, an elephant passing through their land could push a family past the brink of financial ruin. Because of Kenya’s booming human population, incidences of human-wildlife conflict have been growing and elephants’ historic migration routes are becoming increasingly unsafe. As a result, many elephant herds were staying on Lewa for longer and longer periods of time, rather than migrating through the Conservancy. An individual elephant eats over 300kgs of grass and shrubbery every day and as more and more began to stay on the conservancy the ecological strain was becoming too much to support.
In order to address these issues, a plan started to come together to form a corridor for these animals along their historic migration route. Establishing a safe corridor would also have the added benefit of connecting families of elephants around Lewa with the otherwise isolated herds living on Mount Kenya, and to thereby increase the genetic diversity and overall health of the species.
The project was steered by the Mount Kenya Trust in partnership with Lewa, the Kenya Wildlife Service, Borana Conservancy and the Kenya Forest Service. The other partners involved were Kisima and Marania farms, two major agricultural operations near Lewa that were concerned for both the safety of the elephants and the sustainability of their crops.
As plans for the corridor came together, one key problem remained: a busy freeway stretching between the towns of Meru and Nanyuki that would serve as a dangerous barrier for any elephant travelling to or from Mount Kenya. Finally a decision was reached to build an underpass to allow the elephants to walk beneath the roadway. Many experts were sceptical of this programme, doubting that elephants would be comfortable with, or even understand, the concept of passing beneath a freeway. However, those doubts were put to rest within days of the underpass’ opening when Tony cautiously walked beneath the freeway.
Today the elephant corridor is a tremendous success with hundreds of elephants travelling up and down every year.