An assessment of the impact of land use changes on human-elephant conflict in Laikipia West district, Kenya
Mumu, Thomas Waithaka
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Farmers in Laikipia West district like many other farmers living in wildlife dispersal areas have continued to suffer huge losses resulting from wildlife menace without adequate compensation. Land use has been changing with time making the area prone to crop destruction by elephants. While it is known that land use change contributes to human -wildlife conflict, it has never been quantified over time for Laikipia West District. The objective of the study was to assess changes in land use/land cover between 1973 and 2008 in Laikipia West district of Kenya and their impact of human-elephant conflict. Land use and land cover mapping and change detection were done using satellite images of January 1973, January 1986, January 2000, March 2003 and April 2008. Supervised classification and on screen delineation approach were used for feature extraction. Geo-referencing and ground verification surveys were done after preliminary photo interpretation. Human-elephant conflict data was obtained from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Study villages and farmers interviewed were selected using stratified random sampling and systemic sampling procedures respectively. Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), Spearson’s Coefficient of Correlation and Chi square statistics were used to test data. Results showed an overall decrease in farms (-34.70%), settlements (-98.00%) and indigenous forests (-49.04%) while there was an increase in human population. Over the same period elephant’s population and human-elephant conflicts were increasing. Analysis of Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) between January 1973 and April 2008 showed that intensity of conflict was low when the level of vegetation was high. Human-elephant conflict was a major cause of increasing poverty levels and lowering of socio economic status of the community. The conflict was increasing as a result of land pressure arising from an increase in human population and increasing pressure on indigenous forests. Although there was establishment of plantation forests, they do not form a stable habitat for the elephants because there are times when they are cut down. Reduction in area of indigenous forest is a cause of the human-elephant conflict. There is, therefore, need to establish a migration corridor between Laikipia Ranch, Rumuruti forest, Lariak forest and Marmanet forest. The deforestation of remaining forests should be averted by involving the community through training and formation of community forestry associations. In addition, land use intensification such as agro forestry and soil fertility enhancement need to be promoted to reduce land degradation through a collaborative approach of lead agencies like Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Ministry of Livestock Development, Ministry of Water and irrigation and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). These efforts should be coupled with maintenance of the carrying capacity of elephant habitats. Declining socio economic status and increasing poverty levels of the community should be clearly addressed during implementation of policies to address the conflict problem.