Ethnic conflict, poaching, stock theft and road banditry have hindered development and disrupted lives in northern Kenya for decades. There is increasing evidence that individuals linked to one will almost certainly be linked to another. Community conservation seeks to tackle insecurity holistically. NRT's dedicated peace team focuses on strengthening community ties and encouraging non-violent conflict resolution, while conservancy rangers focus on anti-poaching operations and wildlife monitoring. Rangers are not only helping to reduce wildlife poaching, but are also proving invaluable to the Kenya Police in helping to tackle cattle rustling and road banditry too.
Each NRT member conservancy has a team of uniformed rangers employed from the local communities and trained with support form NRT. In 2014, there were 645 rangers across the NRT landscape, working to protect and monitor wildlife. Rangers also play a vital role in raising conservation awareness in their local communities, acting as community wildlife ambassadors. Many conservancies are home to two or more ethnic groups, and it is ensured that all have equal representation in the ranger team.
Many rangers have been trained at the Kenya Wildlife Service's Manyani Field Training School. Here they learn bushcraft skills, as well as how to effectively gather and share intelligence, monitor wildlife and manage combat situations.
By the end of 2014, 189 conservancy rangers had been accorded Kenya Police Reserve (KPR) status, which means they can be provided with government weapons by the police, and can carry these arms while on duty. NRT is working with the Kenya Police to have many more conservancy rangers awarded KPR status in the near future.
The importance of conservancy rangers
Gabriel Nyausi, NRT's community development manager, describes the role of conservancy rangers. In a day's work, a ranger can keep the peace, protect local populations, reduce poaching and monitor wildlife.
The NRT Specialised 9-1 Team
The establishment of 9-1, so called because of their radio call sign, was in response to requests from the communities of Sera, Biliqo-Bulesa, Namunyak and Melako for a multi-ethnic security team. They wanted a unit that represented each of the three ethnic groups in the area, to focus specifically on poaching, road banditry and livestock theft, which has always been particularly bad in this region. Individuals from each community were nominated and recruited, and 9-1 was born.
NRT has a vested interest in helping the Kenya Police tackle livestock theft, as it poses such a major disruption to people’s lives in northern Kenya. Historically, it has been a root cause for violent ethnic tension, and the individuals now involved in cattle rustling are increasingly being linked to ivory poaching and road banditry as well. Sera, Biliqo-Bulesa, Melako and Namunyak all have high concentrations of elephant, and are a favourite spot for cattle raiders wishing to hide (and graze) stolen livestock. These factors, combined with the sheer size of the area in question, lead to the need for a specialised team to deliver the extra security assistance required in these conservancies.With the help of the Kenya Police, the Kenya Wildlife Service and a former British Army Officer, the 9-1 team was trained in weapons handling, combat operations and advanced first aid.
The ethnic diversity within 9-1 has proved one of the teams’ greatest strengths. They are not only able to gain trust and intelligence from all the communities across their patrol range, but they are more effectively able to raise awareness within those communities too. They work closely with the conservancy rangers and the Kenya Police, as they operate under the chain of command of the OCPD. Their close relations with the communities and the Kenya Police means the 9-1 team have become part community policemen, part wildlife guardians.
In fact, 9-1 has proved such a success, that a 9-2 team has now been established to cover the community conservancies south of the Ewaso Nyiro river.
The death of a ranger
On May 11, 2014, Ltadamwa Lardagos, a member of the 9-1 security team lost his life in an exchange of fire with heavily-armed cattle raiders. The raiders, who had stolen large numbers of cattle several days earlier, had first been encountered by NRT staff when they were returning from a board meeting. Although they shot at the vehicle, they only succeeded in lightly wounding the driver. Gabriel Nyausi, NRT's community development officer, was in the vehicle and tells the story in this podcast. After he alerted NRT Headquarters, the 9-1 security team tracked the cattle raiders to the settlement of Kom. Lardagos died fighting to protect his community and his rangelands.
Tackling poaching in Namunyak Conservancy
The Mathews Range of mountains is one of the great refuges for elephant in northern Kenya. Following the worldwide ban on the ivory trading 1989, their numbers steadily increased, and the population in this spectacular mountain range is now estimated to be around 2700. Inevitably, they have become a target for poachers. However, the vigilance and hard work of the rangers in Namunyak Conservancy, working with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the police, has helped to reduce poaching during recent years. Fred Njagi, the conservancy’s head warden, tells the story in this podcast.