Mt. Marsabit National Park is a forested oasis that sits to the east of the Chalbi Desert, just 140km south of the Ethiopian border. It is an important water tower for the arid landscape below, and is the northern limit of the north Kenya’s elephant migration route. In 2013, the Rendille, Gabbra and Borana communities living around the mountain approached NRT for assistance in forming three community conservancies. With support from the French development agency’s FFEM programme, Shurr, Jaldesa and Songa Conservancies were formed. They joined Melako Community Conservancy as part of the newly formed NRT North East, lead by regional director Emmanuel Kochale.
The conservancies are working to tackle key challenges surrounding forest and land management. They are a vital buffer for wildlife in Marsabit National Park, with communities increasingly recognizing the value of wildlife to future revenue streams. Using funding from FFEM and the community livelihood fund, Songa Community Conservancy are building bandas – small thatched cottages– that will be equipped for self catering visitors, as well as basic facilities for campers. The conservancy is strategically situated in Mt. Marsabit’s southern foothills, and will provide the perfect base for visitors wishing to explore the National Park and arid desert areas to the east of Mt Marsabit. Similarly, Melako Community Conservancy is at an advanced stage of planning the build of their bandas, located on the scenic Merille lugga with water, security, and good shade. Elephants are now regular visitors to this area, and the bandas will give tourists a unique viewing point.
Jaldessa and Shurr are also exploring the option of establishing a conservancy-operated livestock market, to attract livestock traders from other parts of Kenya and bring in additional revenue. This model has proven to be highly successful in other parts of Kenya.
With kind support from the Hoctor Duncan family through Tusk Trust, Songa, Jaldesa and Shurr each support one community school, making strong and tangible links between conservation and improving lives. Recognizing that malnutrition was one of the biggest factors in children’s attendance scores, the conservancies provide food aid, as well as contribute to infrastructure development such as classrooms. The conservancies have also helped bring peace between the different ethnic groups in the region, and the schools will hold an inter-conservancy football match incelebration of this in May 2017.
Traditional systems of grazing management are still strongly recognized and deeply entrenched with the Marsabit communities, having been developed and implemented long before the existence of community conservancies. Recent meetings with conservancy leadership have called for NRT to support these existing systems, which are widely respected.
Working with the County Government, conservancies and Save The Elephants, NRT will use data gathered from five collared elephants in the area to support land use planning that mitigates human wildlife conflict with farmers and pastoralists, and also to ensure that traditional migratory routes for elephants are maintained.
Despite their large area, Songa, Jaldesa and Shurr employ just 12 rangers per conservancy. While other conservancies, particularly in Samburu and Isiolo, continue to face insecurity challenges as the drought tightens its grip in the region, Marsabit has reported no incidents of stock theft, road banditry or elephant poaching this year. This can be attributed to the vigilance of the ranger teams, the close partnerships with KWS, and the support of the local communities to the conservancy movement in Marsabit.