An African elephant approaches an underpass beneath the busy Nanyuki-Meru road in northern Kenya in a recent picture.
The first of its kind for elephants, the underpass will ideally provide a safe corridor for the large mammals to move throughout the Mount Kenya region (map), where highways, fences, and farmlands have split elephant populations, according to Geoffrey Chege, chief conservation officer of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a Kenya-based nonprofit.
The elephant underpass (pictured in 2011) could have at least two other benefits. For one, it could improve the genetic health of northern Kenya elephants, since more genes will mix as the animals move into various territories and find new mates.
The corridor may also mean that elephants will move around more, reducing pressure on habitats—and possibly helping other species that use the same resources, such as the black rhinoceros, according to the conservancy.
The species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but numbers vary greatly depending on the region.
For instance, major populations in eastern and southern Africa—including Kenya—are increasing at an average rate of 4 percent a decade, according to the IUCN.
But one trend is clear across the continent: "Elephant distribution is becoming increasingly fragmented," the conservation group noted. And that's something projects like the Kenya underpass can help to address.
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic