The 35 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.
The NRT monitoring and evaluation (M&E) have been collecting data on 11 key wildlife species in 17 conservancies since 2013. Overall, most key species are stable, apart from the endangered Grevy's zebra. The proportion of illegally killed elephants (through poaching and human-wildlife conflict) dropped from 56% in 2016 to just 34% in 2017, continuing the decreasing trend that conservancies have seen since 2012. Only eight elephants were poached for trophies in 2017, compared to 35 in 2016. However, with the harsh 2017 drought placing untold pressures on pastoralists and wildlife alike, there has been an increase in the number of elephants killed in conflict.
Despite this, some good news from an aerial census of large mammals carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Service in November 2017. Results confirmed that there has been an increase in the overall populations of both elephants and reticulated giraffe in the Laikipia-Isiolo-Samburu landscape between 2008 and 2017.
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.
The significant decline in poaching seen across NRT conservancies 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.
Four conservancies are managing endangered species sanctuaries with the support of NRT and partners. These conservancies are among just a handful of their kind in Africa, and are blazing a new trail for community-led endangered species conservation.
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.
An aerial and ground survey conducted by the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy and NRT in 2017 concluded that there has been a 140% increase in the number of animals in the fenced sanctuary since it was established. After a population decline in 2016 as a result of drought, the sanctuary recorded a population growth of 15% in 2017. There were 15 births and two deaths, resulting in a population of 97 individuals by the end of 2017. Ishaqbini have made efforts to clear Acacia reficiensin the sanctuary to promote grass recovery, and initiated a tick control programme using livestock.
The fate of hirola outside the sanctuary, however, remains dire and numbers in the free-ranging population continue to decline.
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.
Sadly, tragedy struck in 2017 when one of the females died as a result of falling off a cliff, and an adult male died from compaction of the intestine. Then, the first calf to be born in Ruko fell victim to a python. The group now comprises of one male and five females.
While the island forms a naturally secure sanctuary, ensuring a consistent food supply to the giraffes has been a challenge. NRT and Ruko are now exploring the feasibility of moving the animals to a new sanctuary on the mainland to ensure the sustainability of this project.
In May 2015, the Kenya Wildlife Service, NRT and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy partnered to move 10 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.
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants (RESCUE) in Namunyak Conservancy rescued a total of 26 elephant calves in 2017, three of which were successfully reunited with their herds. By end of 2017, 13 young elephants were at the RESCUE facility receiving round-the-clock care. The primary aim of RESCUE is to rerelease these elephants into the areas they were found when they are old enough.