Together, Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) and Mpala Research Centre (MRC) commissioned a systematic aerial survey of the whole of Laikipia. They also surveyed some adjacent wildlife areas. The survey was carried out in early April and was successfully completed in 6 days. It used two Cessna Caravan aircraft flying transects (these are lines the earth’s surface, along which observations are made or measurements taken) with very experienced crews doing the counting and photographing of large groups of animals. Those involved did a complete photographic coverage of the area, which will be mapped and analysed. The data entry and analysis of the survey is underway right now and results will be out shortly. Look out for these in next month’s issue of Forum Focus.
The survey is part of LWF’s move to try to assess how it can best serve the needs of its members and all stakeholders in the region, and support the County government’s desire to carry out regional planning and development based on accurate information.
The Information that this type of survey provides is important as a baseline for monitoring and managing landscape health and integrity over future years. By using standard, repeatable methods, it gives us the opportunity to understand trends in the landscape based on the long history of these surveys in Laikipia. Consultations have been on-going through group and individual meetings to get feedback on improving LWF’s role and expectations from such a survey.
DRSRS is the highly experienced government agency that was set up originally as Kenya Rangeland Ecological Monitoring Unit (KREMU) in the 1970s. It has been carrying out surveys over the whole of Kenya’s rangelands since then. In partnership with MRC and LWF, systematic surveys of Laikipia have been done regularly since 1985, with the most recent in 2012.
This type of systematic sample survey, known as the Systematic Reconnaissance Flight (SRF), gives broad information on numbers and distribution of a wide range of things, such as wildlife like elephants. It also tells us a great deal about livestock, carcasses, human settlements, and land use.
How does it work?
The way the SRF method works is by setting up parallel rods on either side of the plane. The observers only count the animals they see between the rods, although they may note if group sizes of important species extend beyond the rods. This focuses the attention of the observers to make it less likely for them to miss animals while giving them a precise measurement of the area sampled.
Parallel transects are flown along measured distances over the entire survey area and then the length is multiplied by the strip width, giving the area counted. Calculations are then made to estimate total numbers of each species within the whole area. While this is going on, the front seat observer records other parameters of habitat, land use and the state of vegetation.
The survey is usually flown at the end of the dry season, partly to repeat the standard of past years and make it easy to make comparisons, but also to be able to measure and plot the time of maximum pressures on the land from grazing. This year the count was later than in other years because of the seasonal problems linked to climate change. We hope to be able to repeat this basic standard aerial measure annually and to be able to reinforce it with more detailed information on specific issues.