Conservationists said that an elephant marched hundreds of kilometers and crossed Somalia this month, marking the first time the animal has been sighted in the country in 20 years.
Morgan, a bull in his 30s, was collared in December in Kenya’s coastal Tana River Delta, but in mid-February began a surprise march northwards to Somalia, to the border almost three weeks later.
His march has excited conservationists, who say it shows the elephant recalling ancient routes after decades of absence due to war.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephant, a conservation organization that has put hundreds of African elephants with tracking collars, said: ‘Obviously he had something in mind about where he was going.
Morgan’s journey shows that the Kenya-Somalia border region is becoming less dangerous and that if security were to return to southern Somalia, so might the exiled elephants.
From the Tana River, Morgan walked 20 km (12 mi) on the first night and then took refuge in the jungle the next day before continuing his march in darkness. He maintained this pattern for the next 18 days.
“He used this extreme form of survival strategy to navigate through one of the most dangerous places for elephants in their African range,” said Douglas-Hamilton.
African elephants are threatened everywhere by criminal p.oa.ching gangs and armed groups who k.i.l.l them for their tusks, which cost around 1,100 USD (1,000 euros)/kg (2.2 pounds) in China.
At least 20,000 elephants were killed last year, according to figures released this month by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international organization.
Morgan’s long march north
In some parts of Africa, elephants are ki.lle.d faster than they reproduce, but Kenya has seen recent successes with the number of elephants po.ac.hed in 2015 falling to 93 from 164 the previous year.
In the early 1970s, there were an estimated 20,000 elephants in Kenya’s coastal region, but that number has dropped to 300 today.
Some have credited Kenya’s security activity in the region with its crackdown on po.ach.ing.
Charles Omondi, a commander of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is patrolling the Lamu area with Kenyan soldiers and police deployed to guard against frequent dea.d.ly a.tta.cks by militants. “We are seeing more elephants than now,” said the Muslim soldier.
There have been no confirmed sightings of elephants in Somalia for two decades, since soon after the start of a civil war that has continued in various forms ever since.
Although time has passed, Morgan seemed to still remember the old migration routes.
“A mature bull like Morgan is not wandering aimlessly. He’s likely following a route that he learnt earlier in his life, one that has been used by elephants for generations,” said Ian Craig, conservation director at the Northern Rangelands Trust, the conservation group is based on setting up sanctuaries across the country, including the area where Morgan lives.
Ultimately, after walking 220 kilometers (137 miles) Morgan spent less than 24 actual hours in Somalia — and only three kilometers across the border — before heading back, presumably after failing to find any willing females with whom to mate.
But the fact of his journey is what excites conservationists.
“Among all the tracking activities we’ve done in Africa, these movements — and the circumstances — are exceptional,” Douglas-Hamilton said. “The wandering of this bull across the entire vast area of Lamu district, from the Tana River to the Somali border; nobody has seen anything like this before.”