Location: Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, Mukogodo Division, Laikipia North District
Postal address: PO Box 263, 1042 Timau, Kenya
Manager: Patrick Leresi
Contact: E: ilngwesi@nrt-kenya.org T: 0721 153 572
Ethnicity: Laikipiak Maasai
Population: 3,800
Land Ownership: Group Ranch with titles having been issued under: II Ngwesi I Plot 1; and II Ngwesi II Plot 2
Core Conservation Area: 9,470 hectares
Main Livelihood: Agro-pastoralism and tourism
Key Wildlife Species: African wild dog, Grevy’s zebra, elephant, eland
Year of Registration: 1995
Staff Employed from the Community: 36
Annual Operating Budget: US$ 78,000

Background

‘Il Ngwesi’ means “people of wildlife” in Laikipiak Masai and the name couldn’t be more appropriate. It was one of the first community-led conservation initiatives in northern Kenya, set up with a vision to sustainably manage the environment in order to both graze livestock and conserve wildlife, which it was hoped would in turn, encourage tourists. Along with Namunyak Community Wildlife Trust, Il Ngwesi made the beginnings of the NRT family back in 1995, when the Il Ngwesi Lodge was also built. Both the lodge and Il Ngwesi’s neighbouring conservancy, Lewa, have played a huge part in helping to develop community initiatives, and continue to do so today.

The People

The Laikipiak Masai have been grazing the plains of Il Ngwesi for decades. But as changing times bring increased pressure on natural resources, grazing cattle has become a volatile livelihood. With the aim of giving pastoralists both security and incentive, the ‘GrazingWorks’ business was trialled in Il Ngwesi in 2006, and was so successful that it is now being implemented in 11 other NRT conservancies.

The establishment of the conservancy has enabled many NGOs to effectively reach out to the communities of Il Ngwesi. For example, Kenya Health Care Initiative and American Friends of Kenya initiated a re-usable sanitary towels production project with the women here. Women received training in sewing the sanitary towels, and purchased three sewing machines. They now earn a living selling the eco-friendly sanitary towels they make. 

Il Ngwesi has also helped develop a program similar to that of NRT Trading's BeadWorks business, where women’s groups are trained in craft making, leadership, governance and business development. The scaling up of the programme and marketing has been possible through support from Volunteer Services Overseas. Their donation of 5 million Ksh. has developed the micro-credit programme so women have access to loans to set up their enterprises, and their donation of a Land Rover and three motorbikes also supports the programme. The aim is to empower women and help diversify incomes within the communities so there is not such a heavy reliance on livestock. 

Ecosystem

The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was set up in 1995 primarily to focus on the protection of rhinos. Because Il Ngwesi borders Lewa it has inevitably shared some of its rhino population, but suffered heavily from the poaching epidemic in the 1980s and early 1990s. Realising the importance of the species not only for conservation but for tourism, Group Ranch members set aside huge areas of land which they hoped would be approved for rhino reintroduction. In 2002, an orphaned black rhino named Omni was relocated from Lewa to Il Ngwesi, making it the first community conservancy in Kenya to host the species. They were hopeful that this would pave the way for more rhino to be introduced, but tragically Omni was killed by poachers in May 2013. The community of Il Ngwesi were devastated, but their dedicated response to the situation was highly commended, and resulted in the offenders quickly being caught.

Il Ngwesi has 18 scouts, employed from the community, who play a critical role not only in the fight against poaching, but in raising conservation awareness, gathering intelligence and collecting basic wildlife data. They were trained with funding from NRT and generous support from the Kenya Wildlife service, at the Manyani Training School in the famous Tsavo National Park. Passing with flying colours, they emerged with knowledge in discipline, field craft, wildlife law and wildlife monitoring.

The Conservancy has also developed sustainable land use plans, which includes grazing management plans drawn up by a dedicated grazing committee. Bunched herding of cattle and designated grazing blocks are proving to help rehabilitate the rangeland, benefiting both the livestock and the wildlife that graze the same plains, and ensuring the sustainability of the natural resources.

Visiting Il Ngwesi

Established in 1995, Il Ngwesi Lodge has been directly involved with community and conservation development since it began. Income from tourism activities (camel safaris, visits to the cultural village, camping sites) has not only provided employment, but also paid for the construction of cattle dips, water projects, schools, education scholarships and health services. 

Il Ngwesi Lodge has won many awards as a premier community ecotourism destination - check it out on TripAdvisor.

The Future of Il Ngwesi

With assistance from NRT and partner organisations, Il Ngwesi aims to achieve the following in the coming years:

  • To convene, along with all other NRT community conservancies, in annual general meetings to share plans and progress
  • To take part in a livelihood baseline survey, commissioned by NRT, with a view of determining the status and priority of education, health, water, jobs, food security, infrastructure and current availability of government services
  • To continue the strengthening of wildlife security and monitoring within the conservancy
  • To sign a partnership memorandum of understanding, along with all other community conservancies, between themselves and NRT
  • To receive continued support for the establishment of a rhino sanctuary capable of housing a number of black rhinos in the Group Ranch