If some of Kenya’s elephants survive poaching, spears and droughts, an unexpected new phenomenon threatens them: the growing demand for avocados.
Shortly after dawn, the elephant “Tolstoy”, with its giant skeleton and its tusk, which are almost touching the ground, overlooks in the Kenyan Amboseli Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, where it has lived amid wild nature for nearly half a century.
It has withstood years of illegal poachers and droughts, but the biggest threat to it is the growing demand for avocados.
A 73-hectare farm near the famous Amboseli Park, which is packed with many species of wildlife, is the focus of a court battle.
The farm’s opponents, who are property owners and environmental groups, assert that the farm impedes the mobility of elephants, and conflicts with the historical use of these lands.
However, the farm’s financiers deny this, stressing that it does not threaten wild animals in the place, and in return provides essential jobs on unused land.
And the African elephants are on the organization’s “red list” of species facing extinction.
The jungle elephants, a genus near Amboseli, were classified in the list of “endangered” species, after their numbers decreased by at least 60% during the last 50 years.
Kenya ranks high on the list of avocado exporting countries, and its exports have increased dramatically with the growing passion for this type of “superfood”, which has become an important ingredient on food menus around the world.
Kenya ranks sixth on the list of countries that export the most avocados to Europe, and these exports increased by 33%, to reach $ 127 million in October 2020.
During this exceptional year, Kelly Avo Fresh Limited obtained permission from the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to establish farms for it on land sold by people from the Maasai ethnic group.
The crops were removed from the ground and then fenced, and then equipped with solar panels and a nursery with excavations to exploit the groundwater. In September, the “NEMA” Authority, in response to a pressure campaign, ordered the “Kelly Avo” company to suspend its activities pending the completion of the study of the file. The company has appealed the decision to the Environmental Court in Kenya, which is currently hearing the case. On a March morning, tractors were noticed plowing the land, while agricultural workers watered the young avocado trees.
As for the owners of neighboring lands and experts in wildlife, they have a decisive position: there is no possibility of coexistence between the two.
They warn that avocado cultivation consumes large quantities of irrigation water and threatens this ecosystem, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which is already facing frequent droughts. The elephants also collided with the electric fence set by “Kelly Avo”, in their opinion, evidence of its presence on the routes that the elephants take when leaving Amboseli to breed or to search for water or pastures. “Can you imagine elephants dying in Amboseli for Europeans to eat avocados?” Says Paula Kahombo, who runs the non-governmental organization Wildlife Direct.
‘Crops to be lost’
The majority of the inhabitants of the Maasai ethnicity in the vicinity of the Kili Avo farm have made their lands special open reserves in which wild animals and livestock can move freely.
• Commercial farming in Kenya is much more dangerous to animals than illegal hunting.
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