Original Source: Mail Online
When is a tunnel not a tunnel? When it’s a trunk road. This tunnel, which connects two wilderness areas in Kenya, has just opened and for the first time elephants have been spotted using it.
It was 6:47pm when the set of gleaming set of white tusks poked out of the underpass. There then followed another pair and then another as three young males moved cautiously through before climbing a bank of dirt, made a sharp left turn and crashed into the forest.
The $250 000 tunnel is heralded as a breakthrough in human-animal relations. It was built with donor funds with the aim of uniting two distinct elephant populations separated for years by a road.
The tunnel sits in the rolling hills below Mount Kenya, near fields of young green wheat and bright yellow canola stalks. It was lined with hay and elephant dung to entice the animals through.
The elephants successfully crossed a major road without putting themselves or motorists in danger, and without damaging crops or scaring residents in a nearby village.
“The first time we had a report about an elephant going under the underpass it was very exciting. We didn’t expect it to happen so quickly,” said Susie Weeks, executive officer of the Mount Kenya Trust, one of the partners in the tunnel project.
The 15ft high tunnel opened for elephant business around Christmas and Tony is the name of the elephant making the historic crossing.
Africa’s wildlife is coming under increasing pressure from human development. Villages are being built and crops raised in areas that for centuries were animal wildlands. The new elephant underpass reconnected wilderness areas on Mount Kenya’s highlands and the lower forests and plains, linking 2 000 elephants on Mt. Kenya with 5 000 more below.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save The Elephants, said elephants would now be able to move from low to high to search for food and mates.
A fenced-in nine-mile corridor, either side of the tunnel, which cost around $1m, will also help strengthen the elephants’ gene pool.
“All over Africa this incredible wildlife is increasingly being fragmented by the growing human population, and if African wildlife is to survive, solutions must be found of this nature, where connectivity is preserved through corridors,” he said. “I think it’s a good example of the compromises that can be made between human interest and the survival of wild animals,” he added.
China and India already have elephant underpasses, with India even having elephant overpasses. In the United States a winner was announced last week in a contest to design a highway wildlife crossing in Vail, Colorado aimed at reducing collisions between cars and deer, coyote and bighorn sheep.
In South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park, which is fragmented by roads and railway lines, officials recently opened an elephant crossing over a road, said Megan Taplin, a park spokeswoman. She said officials have considered overhead bridges that are wide and full of vegetation to help elephants move around.
Kenya’s underpass was 10 years in the making, and didn’t gather much momentum until Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic, donated $250 000. The Dutch government kicked in more money and other donors stepped up. Two major farms allowed the corridor to cross through their land.
One of those family farms gave up 671 acres to the corridor. The elephants have already caused $25 000 in damage, but farm owner-manager Charlie Dyer said he is ‘just overjoyed and really, really satisfied’ to see the underpass in use.
The project had many sceptics, people who feared the elephants wouldn’t walk through a tunnel that humans had built but here is pictorial proof that they can.