NAIROBI, The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) will spend 20 million SHILLINGS (about 193,000 US dollars) to carry out its 2017 aerial elephant survey in the Tsavo Conservation Area in the south of the country.

The exercise, which kicks off on Thursday, involves more than 120 specialists from different conservation agencies and donor organizations, said KWS spokesperson Paul Gatithu here Tuesday.

He told the Kenya News Agency (KNA0 on the sidelines of a training session for pilots and data specialists that the census would include making a tally of other big game, including buffaloes and giraffes.

Ten aircraft will be used for the exercise which extend to the Mkomanzi National Reserve in Tanzania and which is part of the Tsavo area ecosystem.

The census will also encompass areas like Kitui, Chyullu Hills, Tsavo ranches and neighbouring lands where elephants and other big game often strayed to.

“We are currently training the officers on what is required during the exercise. It will be an intensive exercise that must be well co-ordinated,” Fatithu said.

The organizations involved in the census include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Tsavo Trust, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, African Wildlife Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

During the census, the entire Tsavo conservation area will be divided into 91 blocks each measuring some 600 square kilometres.

Each plane, with its pilot, data collector and observers, will sweep one block, documenting all the big game in an automated dictaphone which will transmit the sightings and voice recordings into a central database.

The aircraft will observe straight lines while sweeping the blocks and will be separated from one another by a one-kilometre gap. The data specialists will key in GPS co-ordinates of areas that require extra attention by ground teams.

The elephant census in the Tsavo area is a one-in-three-years exercise aimed at identifying the elephant population, migration trends and usage of environment. The last exercise was conducted in 2014 and recorded an elephant population of 12,570.

However, the issue of massive influx of livestock in the national park poses a challenge to the exercise. In the past several months, large herds of elephants have been displaced from the park by livestock.

This implies that the exercise will have to focus more on areas outside the park to record all big game outside the protected areas.

Gatithu admitted that illegal herders were a menace to the wildlife but stated that the current drive to flush out livestock was not related to the census. “We have been driving away the livestock since last year. The operation will continue but it is not related with the jumbo count,” he said.

KWS Director-General Kitili Mbathi is expected to officially launch the exercise on Wednesday.