USING CAMERA TRAPS TO STUDY THE DISTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN SAVANNAH ELEPHANTS AT MPALA RANCH

The study on distribution of African savannah elephants was carried out within the borders of Mpala ranch which lies in the Northern part of Kenya, within Laikipia District.

Data was collected in 2008, 2011 and 2013 during the dry season (within January to March on average) by use of camera traps. Each year, a total of 97 camera traps were evenly set within the ranch. Photos taken by the camera traps were downloaded and systematically stored in a computer using Windows Live Gallery package.

The secondary data was coded and entered into MS Excel package in order to generate distribution chars. The same data coded in MS Excel was imported to Arc GIS program (version 10.1) so as to generate distribution maps with different vegetation zones/habitats as well as Mpala dams. A buffer zone of 2 km radius was created around each dam on the distribution maps. A GPS was used to record the exact ‘X’ and ‘Y’ coordinates of each camera trap. All the photos taken by each camera trap were cross checked so as to determine the total number of elephant sightings at each camera trap for the three study years.

The number of elephant sightings in the three years was observed to increase with a total number of 146 in 2008, 223 1n 2011 and 635 in 2013. The distribution pattern also shifted from clustered in 2008 and 2011 in general to even distribution in 2013.

The level of habitat utilization on acacia brevispica thicket increased over the years while utilization on grassland was observed to decrease over the study period.

Elephant sighting within the 2 km radius buffer zone around each dam was not constant in the study area for the three years.

The distribution pattern of elephants at Mpala ranch during the dry season was observed to be dictated more by vegetation zones rather than the distribution of dams. The same study should be carried out during the wet seasons so as to enable comparison.