Sunday, December 15

Magical Mathews

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By Sophie Harrison (in collaboration with Natasha Breed and Ian Craig)

Namunyak Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands

There is a place in northern Kenya where the dry arid plains give way to a lush, indigenous forest that drapes over a towering mountain range. The forest feeds springs seeping from the mountains sustaining life in the harsh country below. As northern Kenya dries up after each successive rainy season elephants gather in their hundreds. Their time-worn trails wind between ancient trees that host rare primates and brightly coloured birds. Local Samburu herdsmen dig wells in dry riverbeds quenching the thirst of their livestock and drive their herds up to mountain pastures to sustain them through extended dry periods.

Namunyak is the name of the community conservancy caring for these mountains. The name means ‘blessed’ in Samburu. Few better words describe these 394,000 hectares – a Forest Reserve now designated as a community wildlife conservancy. While elsewhere in Kenya elephant poaching figures remain high, here the community will not tolerate poachers. In the past three years, Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust and its sister conservancies in northern Kenya have seen a massive 38% reduction in the numbers of elephant being poached on community-protected land. Not only that, but insecurity incidents such as cattle rustling and road banditry that once tainted this region, have also dramatically reduced.

These conservancies – now 27 in northern Kenya – are backed by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) who, together with Kenya Wildlife Service, provides financial and logistical support, as well as training. The Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust was one of the first community conservancies to be established in northern Kenya in 1995, and is now stronger than ever. Led by a democratically elected board, Namunyak Conservancy is – for want of a better word – a community corporation.

Through its partnerships with NRT and other organisations, Namunyak aims to improve the lives of its people that live within the area by providing security, employment, livestock markets and other direct incentives – such as enabling women to set up their own enterprises with the help of micro-loans – whilst connecting the overall plan closely to good conservation.

With community members employed as rangers, community owned lodges working in partnership with independent safari camp operators, and a good governance system in place – Namunyak stands as a fantastic example of community conservation in Northern Kenya. Reducing inter-ethnic conflict and stock theft through dialogue and peace projects has also helped contribute to the reduction of poaching – this level of crime struggles to thrive in areas where an empowered community has a sense of pride and ownership of the land and its wildlife.

Central to the reduction of poaching has been the Chief Warden of Namunyak, Richard Lokurukuru. Trained by Kenya Wildlife Service at Manyani Law Enforcement College, he is responsible for drumming up community support for wildlife conservation whilst working closely with the authorities. This has led to the arrest of a number of ivory poachers over the past three years. Richard has 60 rangers under his command, employed from the local community and trained by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The rangers have skills in bushcraft, gathering and sharing intelligence, and monitoring wildlife. They not only protect the wildlife in Namunyak against poachers, but also gather important data on species distribution and populations.

Stable wildlife numbers are important for the community. Both tourist lodges operating in Namunyak provide substantial revenue directly to the conservancy. The community-owned Sarara Camp, operated by the Bastard family, and Cheli & Peacock’s Kitich Camp have been a vitally important part of Namunyak’s conservation and community development efforts. Conservation and bed night fees received from these lodges for the year 2013 totaled around Ksh. 28,234,000 (US$ 307,464) making Namunyak the highest earner of tourism income in the NRT family. 60% of this revenue goes toward community projects, while 40% goes towards the annual operating costs of the conservancy. Over half of the community allocated funds in 2013 went to school bursaries, while a significant proportion also went towards livestock compensation and grazing development initiatives in the conservancy. As a perfect example of livestock and wildlife co-existing, Namunyak participates in a ‘Livestock to Markets’ programme in partnership with NRT, and other partners, which enables cattle herders to earn higher prices for livestock.

An elected grazing management committee, together with a team of local warriors, establish grazing blocks for pastoralists in the conservancy. Through the NRT Livestock Program, communities with a good track record of sustainable natural resource management have the opportunity to sell their cattle to NRT for a better than market price. NRT partners with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to fatten the cattle, and then with Ol Pejeta Conservancy to slaughter and market the meat. Profits are pumped back into the conservancies. In 2014, NRT bought over 754,000 USD worth of cattle from 11 community conservancies, directly benefiting 1,063 households in these communities. This initiative is being rolled out across an increasing number of NRT community conservancies. The area of land under improved conservation management has increased from 5,400 km² in 2008 to over 27,400 km² in 2013. These areas are now seeing an increase in wildlife numbers. Namunyak alone is recording stable or increasing populations of Grevy’s zebra, African wild dog, lion, elephant, giraffe, and oryx.

The leadership and conservation success of Namunyak has established the standard for community conservation across Northern Kenya. People and wildlife are safer through the communities’ efforts to preserve their forest. The trend in wildlife numbers is no longer in decline, but stable or increasing, and elephant are becoming resident again in areas where they have not been seen in 30 years. The forests that coat the rugged hillsides are safe, there is no commercial or subsistence extraction of timber, there is no charcoal burning. The Mathews remain as pristine and as wild as they have stood for several hundred years. Under their present custodianship and care these mountains will continue to provide the water and pastures sustaining the Samburu culture and people who nurture and protect their forests.

Additional facts from Fred Njagi, Manager of Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust:
• The total revenue from Sarara Camp for the year 2014 was US$ 185,316 and major community projects funded in 2014 from tourism revenue generated from Sarara include KSh 4,630,000 paid as education bursaries for 926 students, and KSh 550,000 paid in medical bills/support for 34 individuals
• Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust employs 80 staff, 68 of which are rangers. Their rangers arrested 3 poachers in 2014, recovering 4 elephant tusks during the same period.
• Numbers of elephants poached within the conservancy has significantly reduced: from 25 in 2012, to 11 in 2013, and only 3 in 2014.

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