The last 30 years have seen significant declines in wildlife across Kenya. Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans over shared resources are primary factors.
Historically, local communities have had little say in how conservation areas in Kenya are managed, and seen little tangible benefit from wildlife protection. As a result, attitudes towards wildlife from the very people that lived alongside it were apathetic. The community conservation movement is changing this, by bridging the gap between conservation and improved livelihoods.
NRT member conservancies are protecting wildlife in six main ways:
Increasing conservation awareness
Human-wildlife conflict mitigation
Wildlife population monitoring
Endangered species recovery programmes
The NRT wildlife team have been collecting data on 11 key wildlife species in 17 conservancies since 2013. These are elephant, eland, oryx, giraffe, gerenuk, lion, cheetah, wild dog, Grevy's zebra, plains zebra and buffalo. Most key species are stable or increasing in over 50% of the conservancies, with the notable exception of the endangered Grevy's zebra.
Between 2012 and 2018, the number of elephants killed for their ivory in NRT conservancies dropped 97%.
The overall proportion of illegally killed elephants (PIKE) through both poaching and human-wildlife conflict dropped from 77% in 2012 to 38% in 2018.
An aerial census of large mammals carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Service in November 2017 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. Elephant numbers have increased 13.84% during that time, and reticulated giraffe 48.75%.
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 human/elephant conflict. NRT and the conservancies are working to address this challenge, through awareness programmes and conservancy-run compensation schemes. These initiatives saw a 67% reduction in human-elephant in Namunyak Conservancy in 2018, a conservancy with some of the highest elephant populations in the region.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
Reteti is the first community-run elephant sanctuary in East Africa, if not the entire continent. It was established in August 2016 in Namunyak Community Conservancy; which is home to some of the largest elephant populations in the region.
The sanctuary currently provides employment for 48 keepers, most of whom are drawn from the Ngilai community of Namunyak. Reteti first and foremost aims to reunite lost or abandoned elephant calves with their herds, responding to calls from rangers and community members across the landscape. Failing successful reunion with their herd, the team will take the calf to the purpose built sanctuary, where it will be hand-reared by the team of passionate keepers until it is strong enough to go back to the wild. Operating in and around NRT conservancy areas, the Reteti rescue team work closely with conservancy rangers, local communities and the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Reteti currently cares for 14 orphaned and abandoned elephants (seven males and seven females). The team responded to 11 call outs in 2018, mostly to calves that had accidentally fallen into water wells or become separated from their herds. Five calves were reunited with their families in the field, which is always the most prioritised and desirable outcome.
Alongside Namunyak, three other conservancies are managing endangered species sanctuaries with the support of NRT and partners. Like Reteti, these conservancies are among just a handful of their kind in Africa, and are blazing a new trail for community-led endangered species conservation.
The hirola is the most endangered antelope in the world, with an estimated wild population of around 500 individuals. This bespectacled antelope is native to the arid woodlands and savannahs of the Kenya/Somalia border, but is now found only in isolated pockets of Kenya.
In 2012, the community of Ishaqbini, in Garissa County, approached NRT for support in establishing a protected sanctuary for the hirola in their conservancy - the first community initiative of its kind in Kenya. Thanks to their efforts, and support from partners, hirola numbers in the sanctuary are booming. An aerial and ground survey conducted by the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy and NRT concluded that there has been a 140% increase in the number of animals in the fenced sanctuary since 2012. The Sanctuary population increased by 17% in 2018 alone, with 18 births that brought the total number of animals to an estimated 117-129 individuals. The Ishaqbini management have made efforts to clear the damaging and prolific Acacia reficiens in the sanctuary to promote grass recovery - they cleared 593 acres of land in 2018 - 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.
Click here to see the latest shots from the sanctuary webcams!
In 2012, eight Rothchild's Giraffe returned to Baringo almost 70 years since they were last seen the area. And they did so in style, travelling by boat to 'Giraffe Island' in Ruko Community Conservancy.
A survey in 2016 found that nearly 40% of Africa's giraffe population had been wiped out in one generation. With fewer than 97,562 of all nine subspecies left, they are now listed 'vulnerable' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It was hoped that under community guardianship on a protected island in their former range, this small group would breed and repopulate surrounding areas.
Tragically, only six giraffe remain in Ruko. One of the females died as a result of falling off a cliff, and an adult male died from compaction of the intestine. To add to the tragedy, 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 2015, Sera became the first community conservancy in east Africa (likely the whole of Africa) to establish a black rhino breeding sanctuary. A collaboration between the Kenya Wildlife Service, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the Sera community and NRT saw the critically endangered animal reintroduced to Samburu ranges 25 years since the last individual was poached in the area. 13 rhinos were translocated to the 107 square kilometre sanctuary from Nakuru National Park and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
Not only did the establishment of Sera Rhino Sanctuary help to reduce capacity pressures in those areas (a growing problem for rhino sanctuaries in Kenya) but it also represented a shift in Kenya's endangered species conservation model - empowering local communities to take the lead. Unfortunately, despite the best vets being on hand, three of the rhinos died as a result of complications arising from the move, leaving a population of 10; five males and five females.
On 11th March 2016, a female (who was pregnant during the move) gave birth to a healthy female calf. A second birth was celebrated on 28th February 2017, but it became apparent the young bull needed to be taken into care as his mother continually abandoned him. 'Loijipu' as he was named, was taken to the nearby Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, where he was expertly hand-reared for two years. In June 2018, he returned to Sera to be a wild rhino once again (read more on that story here). Three calves were born in the Sera Rhino Sanctuary in 2018 – two females in January and August, and a male in October, bringing the population to 15.
Innovation in wildlife monitoring
The Conservancy Management Monitoring System (CoMMS) is a simple, cost-effective way for conservancies to collect and monitor trends in wildlife behaviour, illegal activities, wildlife mortality and human wildlife conflict.. It also enables them to collect information on social attitudes towards wildlife and conservation. This data helps conservancies to shape and adapt their management approach, highlighting priorities, successes and sometimes failures.
Instead of requiring scientists to come and collect this data, CoMMS is a ranger-based monitoring system. NRT provides conservancy rangers with CoMMS training, which enables them to collect data from their patrols and upload it to a centralised database. This is accessible to all conservancies as well as the NRT Monitoring & Evaluation team and the Kenya Wildlife Service. CoMMS elephant data is now also being used as part of the CITES Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme.
NRT has developed a comprehensive set of guides to support Wildlife-CoMMS training, implementation and practical day-to-day delivery. These guides can be accessed in the document library.