While the majority of NRT conservancies host at least one endangered species, Ishaqbini holds a collection of the rarest. The hirola is only found within this region in Kenya, and only a few hundred remain in the wild. The cooperation of the Somali pastoralist communities that make up Ishaqbini has been crucial to the conservation of this species, and to its habitat. ENTER Ishaqbini is now part of NRT – Coast, a satellite NRT support centre with a headquarters in Lamu. NRT-Coast is both better equipped and situated, to focus on the challenges of the coastal conservancies.
There are several Somali clans that call Ishaqbini home, and in the past this has been a source of tension. A lot of emphasis has been placed on unity using the same strategies that proved effective in easing ethnic tensions in other conservancies. When the board at Ishaqbini was accused of manipulating the latest elections, the Council of Elders asked three members of its Conflict Resolution Team to visit the conservancy with NRT’s assistant community development manager, Gabriel Nyausi. The Council is the NRT’s governing body, made up of respected elders from each conservancy, and key partners in government, the private sector, NGOs and donors. As a result of the meetings they convened, the conservancy board agreed to organise another, more transparent, round of elections. Easing the unrest between clans has enabled the conservancy to concentrate its efforts in conservation and a sustainable rangeland management that benefits everyone.
The 22 rangers of Ishaqbini have been another vital tool in keeping the peace, and protecting the wildlife. 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, the team emerged with knowledge in discipline, field craft, wildlife law and wildlife monitoring.
The exact population number of remaining hirola varies considerably, but it is undisputedly Africa’s most endangered antelope. With assistance from NRT, KWS, The Nature Conservancy and IUCN, elders from the communities of Hara, Korissa, and Kotile that make up Ishaqbini Conservancy have been able to resource the funding and knowledge they need to protect this precious species. In August 2012, 48 Hirola were moved into a fenced off, predator-free enclosure of 3,000 hectares. This was the first ever fenced sanctuary on community land in Kenya dedicated for the conservation of a critically endangered species. Taking further measures to protect the hirola left outside the sanctuary, the community set up a grazing committee to reduce the competition with livestock for food and water, which in turn has also helped to rehabilitate the rangeland. 4 rangers were assigned to monitor the hirola within the sanctuary, and to increase awareness of the antelope’s plight in the local communities.
These measures are paying off. Over the past year the hirola rangers have built up an incredible knowledge of each individual animal, how the herds are composed, and where they are found. In early November 2013, they reported sighting 7 new-born hirola in the sanctuary in just 3 days; the first Hirola to be conceived in the sanctuary. Not only do the new-borns bring the population up to an estimated 62 animals in the sanctuary (a 29% population increase in 15 months) but they are living proof that the translocated animals have settled well. Three of the calves were born to tagged females who were part of the helicopter capture and the others to untagged females who were either in the sanctuary when the fence was closed or were ‘herded’ in by helicopter.
The Conservancy currently hosts self-catered camping along the banks of Lake Ishaqbini or in the bush. Ishaqbini community rangers are made available for bush walks and the Conservancy Manager is available if guests want to learn more about the conservancy, its activities or the surrounding communities. Community members are interested in establishing a more formal tourism operation in the conservancy in the near future. Given the area’s unique species and biodiversity coupled with its abundant wildlife, Ishaqbini has great potential for tourism development.
With assistance from NRT and partner organisations, Ishaqbini 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
- Implement a conservancy constitution, with the aim of building accountability, transparency, equity and effective representation in Ishaqbini
- To sign a partnership memorandum of understanding, along with all other community conservancies, between themselves and NRT
- To register as not-for-profit
- To develop a conservancy management plan endorsed by the constituent community in Awer
- To receive continuing support for the hirola sanctuary