Location: Ngutuk Ongiron Group Ranch, Waso East, Waso Division, Samburu East District
Postal address: Ngutuk Ongiron Group Ranch, PO Box 610, Isiolo, Kenya
Manager: Chris Lekupe
Manager’s contacts: E: Westgate@nrt-kenya.org T: 0726 549 109
Land ownership: Ngutuk Ongiron Group Ranch without title
Total area: 40,350 hectares
Main livelihood: Pastoralism and tourism
Key wildlife species: Grevy’s zebra, elephant, lesser kudu, warthog, Grant’s gazelle, ostrich, impala
Year of registration: 2004
Staff employed from the community: 35
Annual operating budget: Ksh 8,460,101 / $97,000
West Gate forms part of the patchwork of community conservancy land in the heart of the northern rangeland area. Most NRT conservancies are home to a number of endangered Grevy’s zebra, which is only found in the north of Kenya and parts of Somalia. Herds of up to 500 can be seen scattered across the rugged plains of West Gate, as they use this corridor to get from Mpus Kutuk, Nasuulu, Samburu and Kalama to the vast northern territories of Namunyak and Sera. West Gate conservancy was initiated by the owners of Ngutuk Ongiron Group Ranch, who realized the importance of conserving the Grevy’s zebra, as well as a sustainable rangeland for the Samburu and their livestock. Today, West Gate stands as one of the most successful NRT conservancies, and is frequently visited by other communities who want to see community conservation in action.
The Maa-speaking Samburu are pastoralists, whose livelihoods have traditionally been rooted in semi nomadic cattle, goat and sheep farming across the rangelands of northern Kenya. But as changing times bring increased pressure on natural resources, grazing cattle has become a volatile livelihood, as unpredictable drought and competition with protected wildlife for grazing becomes more frequent.
West Gate is part of NRT’s ‘Beef Works’ programme, (NRT Trading). This an innovative approach to the marketing challenges faced by pastoralists in the region. Herders often trek cattle for days to market, only for transporters to pay poor prices for low-grade livestock. The Beef Works programme provides an alternative market, paying fair prices, purchasing directly from the conservancies, and buying selectively to reward good conservancy performance. This market aims to incentivise conservancies to practice effective, transparent governance and sustainable natural resource management by linking local livestock owners in high performing conservancies to ready markets. So far (from 2011 up to 2014) direct purchase of livestock put 168.5 million Kenyan Shillings (approximately 1.75 million USD) in the hands of over 2,000 pastoralists.
One of the major criteria within the programme is security. 35 rangers, employed from the community and trained by NRT, are continuing to enhance security in West Gate which has helped boost wildlife numbers and in turn, tourist numbers. Rangers play a critical role in raising conservation awareness, gathering intelligence, managing conflict and gathering 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, the team emerged with knowledge in discipline, field craft, wildlife law and wildlife monitoring.
Reducing the reliance on livestock is another objective for West Gate. Under the NRT Trading Bead Works programme, 18 women's groups in the Conservancy can now sell beaded products to a worldwide market, and also have access to business, leadership, accounting, and marketing training. Not only does this give their families an alternative income, but it also empowers women to become decision makers and business owners. Their training makes them eligible to take part in the micro-credit scheme, which will enable them to set up small enterprises.
As part of NRT’s focus on integrating ethnicities, West Gate will be one of the four community conservancies to hold a sport for peace event, where members from any position of the community can compete and connect with other communities.
Thorny acacia scrubland is the archetypal image of Kenya’s northern rangelands. West Gate includes vast expanses of this rugged terrain with rocky outcrops dotted throughout. It also encompasses a part of the great Ewaso Nyiro River, Kenya’s third largest water course, which provides a vital and consistent lifeline to the communities and wildlife along its banks. Grevy’s zebra use West Gate as a safe and well watered passageway between the surrounding conservancies, which makes it an important area for the conservation and monitoring of the species.
West Gate was the first conservancy in NRT to trial the grazing and rangeland management programs, which involves land use planning and integrating new ways of grazing. The first phase involved 200 head of cattle owned by 20 pastoralists, on 1,200 hectares of land designated by the grazing committee. Cattle were bunched tightly together, then moved together to the next area so that the ground could rest. The conservancy also conducted a perennial grass reseeding programme and began eradicating the invasive Acacia reficiens species. This led to such an improvement in rangeland condition that the conservancy was able to increase the number of cattle in the area to 500 head, belonging to over 102 families, the following season. Furthermore, there was an obvious difference in the condition of the cows which had been involved in the grazing programme, and those who had not. The ones that had, fetched a better price at market than their age-mates who had been grazed traditionally, often selling for around 7,000 Kenyan shillings (US$83) more. Oryx, Grevy’s zebra and other wild herbivores started to return to these areas they had previously shunned for lack of forage too.
West Gate also works closely with Ewaso Lions, a community based organisation who work to conserve lions and other large carnivores. Their flagship programme, Warrior Watch, trains Samburu warriors in conflict mitigation, basic data collection and the ecology of their area, so that they may build on their traditional protection role in their community by mitigating lion-human conflict in their area more effectively. Although the main role of the programme is to increase community engagement in conservation, the warriors also collect important data on wildlife presence, and assist West Gate conservancy rangers in security operations and wildlife monitoring.
Visiting West Gate
Sasaab is a luxury 18 bed tented camp nestled on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River. It opened in 2007 and offers guests a truly wild slice of Africa, giving them an opportunity to get close to wildlife and learn a bit about the vivid and proud Samburu culture. 60% of the revenue generated from the lodge goes into community projects such as school bursaries, water pumps and infrastructure, while 40% goes towards the annual operating costs of the conservancy.
The Future for West Gate
With assistance from NRT and partner organisations, West Gate aims to achieve the following in the coming years:
- To register as a not-for-profit company
- To acquire the funding to repair the airstrip
- To take part in peace building exercises with surrounding communities
- 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 and its neighborhood through the WGCC scout team
- To purchase a dedicated conservancy vehicle
- To co-ordinate the trans-location of giraffe, impala and zebra from other community conservancies in order to supplement existing populations
- To sign a partnership memorandum of understanding, along with all other community conservancies, between themselves and NRT
- To acquire adequate training in effectively managing water infrastructure