This past winter the Mirr family had the opportunity to travel to Kenya, visit three different privately owned conservancies throughout the country, and learn more about international conservation efforts. Africa, has long impacted Ken since his previous trip in 1989. It was here he first recognized the importance of managing private and public lands for wildlife and environmental conservation, and influenced him to pursue a career in ranch, conservation and public land issues.
The goal was to understand the missions for each, the issues they tackled, and how they addressed these issues with the hope of learning and seeing how these systems could be applied to lands in the US.
For our first stop, we traveled to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, situated north of Nairobi at the foothills of Mt. Kenya. The main objectives of this conservancy are:
- Protect endangered species and preserve wildlife
- Assist local economy by showing real income from wildlife preservation
- Promote wildlife and community coexistence
Endangered Animal Protection
Founded in 1983, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy has become a poster child for private rhino sanctuaries by protecting the endangered black rhino from wildlife degradation and poaching. Currently, 14% of Kenya’s Black and Southern White Rhino and 12% of the world’s population of the Grevy’s zebra s live on the conservancy. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy has partnered with the local community to employ effective management practices through:
- Daily rhino monitoring throughout the conservancy
- Anti-poaching rangers
- Collaboration with neighboring conservancies like the Borana Conservancy
During our morning and afternoon safaris we saw groups of rangers patrolling the conservancy boundaries looking for poachers and monitoring the movement of the wildlife. We visited the headquarters and saw the live movement of animals and the evidence of migration corridors through the use of tracking software and GIS mapping.
Through these effective practices, Lewa’s rhino population has grown from 15 to 169 and through the collective efforts of the adjoining Borana Conservancy, they have created over 93,000 acres of contiguous rhino rangeland.
Wildlife Conservation: Elephants
Between 2007 and 2014 there was a steady 30% decline in the African elephant population. While many national reserves around the continent are committed to bringing back the population, without the collaborative action of private conservancies, this improvement would not be realized.
While driving through Lewa, we saw lines of elephants following each other along the elephant highway. This highway travels from Mount Kenya to Samburu country and can bring up to 400 elephants at a time to the conservancy. This rangeland is crucial for the elephant migration and as such the surrounding community has taken on the responsibility to protect the herds that come through by:
- Monitoring herds of elephants as they travel across reserves
- Partnering with other conservation groups like Save the Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Northern Rangelands Trust
- Procure funding for underpass under highway
- Educating the community on the importance of elephants
Human development and local economic improvements are necessary for sustainable and effective conservation. Lewa Wildlife Conservancy recognizes the key role they have in creating programs for neighboring communities that protect tradition while also providing tools that ensure economic viability in a modern world. Through multiple efforts Lewa is optimizing the surrounding ecosystem to ensure economic success for the local people who depend on the benefits of their natural capital. Some of these programs include:
- Funding for four clinics that serviced over 45,000 people in 2017
- Women’s Micro-Enterprise program that funds the small businesses of local women
- Identifying water shortage solutions with the community
- Working with local ag businesses to implement sustainable farming practices that maximize production while diversifying crops, like soil conservation, as well as creating open dialogue with other farmers
- Cattle grazing programs to mitigate drought
- Support a total of 29 local schools in the area
- Conservation Education Programme: 4,177 students participated in 2017
The international conservation and local partnerships that the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy has created are what have strengthened its overall scope. By creating meaningful relationships with experts in specific fields, the breadth and impact of projects at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is greater. Some of these partnerships and donors include:
- Borana Conservancy: In 2017, Lewa and Borana eliminated all barriers between them to create one continuous and more varied ecosystem for the local wildlife populations. This partnership increased the secure habitat by 50%.
- Local Law Enforcement: Helped with overall anti-poaching efforts that has lead to 0 poaching incidents in the conservancies in 4.5 years, arrest of 26 suspected poachers in 2017 and a 22% reduction in proportion of illegally killed elephants in 2017.
- Northern Rangeland Trust: Promotes and supports the pastoral livelihoods of cattle ranchers in northern Kenya via the“LivestockWORKS” program. This program opens up cattle markets that pay fair prices and directly deal with local conservancies.
- The Nature Conservancy: Has partnered with and support numerous conservancies in northern Kenya to help sustain an important elephant corridor.
- Private Donors: There is a large connection between Lewa Downs and Denver, including some of the biggest local conservation donors in Colorado like Sue Anschutz.
Without the efforts of private landowners like Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, international conservation and preservation of wildlife would not be possible.
This is Part 2 of an ongoing series. Check out Part 1: International Conservation Series: What are National Parks Doing? to learn more about international conservation on public lands.