The 33 NRT conservancies form a patchwork of protected areas that incorporate ocean, mountain, desert, forest and grassland habitats. Each habitat supports a breathtaking range of biodiversity - from the most iconic African mammals to the lesser known birds, reptiles and marine life. 

The last 30 years have seen significant declines in wildlife across Kenya due to habitat loss and the unregulated harvesting of natural resources. Ivory poaching continues to threaten the future of elephants Africa-wide, and the illegal trade in rhino horn pushes the black rhino ever closer to extinction. On the grasslands, grazing competition with livestock is one of the biggest challenges facing both wildlife and pastoralist communities, for whom cattle is a sole source of income. 

However, community conservancies are slowly but surely changing attitudes toward wildlife. Well-established conservancies lead by example to new and emerging ones, proving that wildlife conservation can bring substantial and sustainable income. Increasingly, communities have a sense of pride in their wildlife, as the ripple effects of conservation extend to peace, education, health and family income. In this podcast, research and monitoring consultant Juliet King describes how one conservancy dealt with a camel herder who killed a lion.

Sustainable natural resource management, such as planned grazing and grass re-seeding, is helping to bring back some species to areas they haven’t been seen in years. The improved grazing is benefitting community livestock too, who fetch higher prices at market. 

Rangers and poaching

Conservancy rangers are one of the cornerstones of wildlife conservation efforts in northern Kenya. Rangers in the conservancies, backed up by mobile rapid-response teams provide security for both people and wildlife, preventing or following-up cattle raids, patrolling and providing intelligence against poachers.

2014 data from CITES show that elephant poaching continues unchanged at a high rate across Africa (with the Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE) at approximately 60%). However, the situation in northern Kenya contradicts this trend. The PIKE rate has dropped from 81% in 2012 to 46% in 2014 – a 43% reduction in elephant poaching in two years.

This significant decline in poaching in NRT areas, in contrast to national and regional trends, is the result of three interacting factors:

  • the increasing effectiveness of community conservancy rangers and mobile teams (especially in the Mathews Forest)
  • increased penalties under the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (2013),
  • the disruption of the ivory supply chain at the national level.

Sanctuaries

NRT has worked closely with three conservancies to support targeted interventions for key endangered species.

In August 2012, the Ishaqbini Hirola Sanctuary became the first ever fenced sanctuary on community land in Kenya dedicated for the conservation of a critically endangered species. Their aim was to protect the critically endangered hirola antelope by moving 48 individuals from the surrounding area into a fenced off, predator-proof enclosure of 3,000 hectares. Listen to the hirola podcast here!

In 2014, a combined aerial and ground count confirmed between 73 and 80 individuals within the sanctuary. This is an increase of nearly 22% per year since the original introduction of 48 individuals in 2012, and is a testament to the hard work of the Ishaqbini rangers and management team. 

Ruko Community Conservancy on Lake Baringo is hoping that successful breeding of Rothschild's giraffe on a island sanctuary will enable them to repopulate surrounding areas. Rothschild's giraffe are the most endangered sub species of giraffe in the world, with only 670 individuals remaining in isolated parts of Kenya and Uganda. In February 2012, eight healthy individuals were captured from nearby Soysambu Conservancy and shipped over to the Ruko Island Sanctuary. No offspring have been produced yet, but the giraffes are in good health and being closely monitored by Ruko Conservancy rangers. 

In May 2015, the Kenya Wildlife Service, NRT and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy partnered to move 20 black rhino into the new Sera Rhino Sanctuary. The move saw the critically endangered animal reintroduced to Samburu ranges 25 years since the last individual was poached in the area. The rhino were translocated from Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks, as well as Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The Sanctuary demonstrates the Government of Kenya’s confidence in the local community, and materialises the promise to support community-based conservation initiatives as provided for by the new Wildlife Act, 2013. Read the Phase 1 Report here. 

Monitoring Wildlife

Soon after NRT was set up, it was clear that a simple, cost-effective system needed to be established to monitor changes in the abundance of wildlife in the conservancies. This led to the development of the Conservancy Management Monitoring System, or CoMMS. Ecological monitoring can be a highly complex process, requiring considerable scientific expertise and expense. In contrast, CoMMS requires little external scientific input, relying instead on the skills and knowledge of conservancy managers and their rangers.

The monitoring system, which is one of the first of its kind, was piloted in Sera in 2005. It is based on measuring the relative abundance of species, gauged not by their absolute numbers but on sightings by rangers. Initially, conservancies which adopted the system compiled a paper database. Once it became clear that the system was working well, rangers were provided with global positioning system (GPS) devices so that they could record the exact location of every sighting. They were then trained in computer skills and taught how to prepare abundance histograms and maps. CoMMS elephant data is now being used as part of the CITES Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, and goes to show that it doesn’t require teams of scientists to produce credible, reliable information. Download the Wildlife CoMMS guide.