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Elephants vs. avocados: new battle for territory in Kenya

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A new avocado farm in southern Kenya has met with backlash for supposedly blocking elephant migration routes. 

The tug-of-war over the 180 acres of land in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro tells a bigger tale: the struggle for the survival of elephants and other wildlife against the increase of agriculture to produce delicacies for rich countries.

Tolstoy the elephant roams the southern Kenyan wilderness against the backdrop of Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.

For almost 49 years he has survived ivory poachers and drought, but his undoing may be an unlikely source: rich countries’ appetite for avocados.

A turf war has erupted over a planned avocado farm spread over 180 acres near Amboseli National Park, where elephants and other wildlife graze.

Environmental groups say it obstructs important migration routes for 2,000 elephants and could threaten their existence.

"There are two farms there, and both of them are exactly in the middle of a wildlife dispersal area. We have recorded some of these areas has been used by elephant as maternity. They come out of the park to give birth there then they go back when the calf good enough to walk. So when we do a large farm there, then it means we are going to lose that space, the elephant has to find another space," Daniel Ole Sambu, Big Life Foundation conservation group complained.

Agribusiness company KiliAvo Fresh was cleared to plant avocados last year on land it bought from local Masai.

The owners say their development falls outside the important migration corridors.

Jeremiah Saalash, a shareholder and farm manager, highlights the economic benefits for the country.

“Land is another source of capital. It’s going to provide employment to the locals, and even beyond the locals as many people in Nairobi, many city centers, depend on agriculture,” Jeremiah Shuaka Saalash, KiliAvo shareholder and farm manager said.

Global demand for avocados has boosted exports from Kenya. Profits rose by 33 percent to 127 million dollars in the last crop year.

But KiliAvo’s massive development in this fragile ecosystem has sparked an outcry. The elephants have less and less land on which to roam.

Samuel Kaanki heads an association of almost 350 Masai landowners who live around KiliAvo. He warns that other large-scale developers will jump in if KiliAvo goes ahead.

"If we lose this land, if KiliAvo will be allowed to continue, we will lose others. We have so many other people who are waiting. So it is dangerous if we lose this, we will lose so many," Samuel said.

Following pressure, Kenya’s environmental agency ordered the farm to stop working last September while it reviewed the file.

KiliAvo has challenged that decision in the environmental tribunal.

Meanwhile, despite the restrictions, planting carries on.