Empowering WRUAs is the way to go!

Over the last 2 weeks, WRUAs, WRMA and MKEWP have entered into formal agreements to restore and sustain rivers flowing within the Upper Ewaso Ng’iro North Basin. This is a culmination of a month long consultation process that included the private and public sectors. Focus was on the implementation of a strategy to mitigate the water crisis that has been affecting the basin since the beginning of this year.

The agreement signed by 14 WRUA chairpersons and WRMA describes a framework for collaboration and provides details of a partnership arrangement between the parties with clear mandates and responsibilities. WRUAs are responsible for:

  • Awareness campaigns at the sub-catchment level,
  • Preparing and implementing river water rationing programmes and,
  • Promoting compliance among its members and work towards conflict resolution.

WRMA on the other hand is providing WRUAs with technical support in developing the rationing programs, enforcement support to increase compliance and water flow monitoring.  4 WRUA clusters (Timau, Nanyuki, Naromoru and Ewaso Ng’iro North) have been established for joint monitoring and evaluation of WRUAs in the same sub catchment, and also WRUA to WRUA mentorship.  

This intervention has resulted in increased water flows for almost all the rivers at the end of February.

However this increase in water flow has been observed mostly on the upper and middle zones of the rivers, which before this effort, were experiencing, almost zero flows. Illegal water abstraction is the biggest problem in the middle zones of the Basin. WRMA has prohibited this and is working with WRUAs to enforce this regulation. However, this is still a challenge especially due to the expansive coverage of river networks within the sub basin.

Increasing climate change pressures, growth in human and livestock population and other factors inherent to water management and conservation are forcing inevitable change in the way we manage our natural resources. Severe water shortages and drought are occurring more frequently, more intensely with the majority of devastating effects taking a toll on local communities and wildlife.

Many of us are asking; what can we do? The answer is a lot! We can begin by learning more about our WRUAs and supporting them so that they can carry out the work that they have been mandated to do.

WRUAs are established under the Water Act as grass root structures to manage sub-catchments with or on behalf of WRMA. Their mandates include:

  1. Surveillance along the river on illegal abstraction, damage on plantations and pollution into the river.
  2. Conflict Management and Resolution on competing water needs among different users    by:
    1. Helping WRMA issue abstraction permits by putting their approval/comments on the suitability of water applications.
    2. Regulating abstraction, particularly in times of drought to ensure that the available water is shared equally.
    3. Ensuring environmental flows are always maintained.

More effort is needed to restore the river flows especially in the Timau and Naromoru sub-catchment. This can only be done if stakeholders continue to work with their WRUAs and if the County Government strengthens its support for the WRUAs and partnership with the Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership (MKEWP). Also continuous river water rationing is needed to ensure the rivers are flowing until the situation normalises.

The Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership supports this effort. With support from the International Finance Corporation, our KSH are being matched by the IFC.  Other supporting partners include the Mount Kenya Growers Group, National Drought Management Authority, and Laikipia County Government.

Obey your WRUA water rationing rules. Consider your water use carefully. And most of all, consider the impacts of your actions on your downstream neighbours. Don’t cut off their water supply!

British Army Leadership Meets with Community and Commerce Reps

In a well-timed move, LWF recently organised a meeting that brought together the British Training Unit Kenya, popularly known as BATUK, and representatives from community group ranches, Laikipia County Chamber of Commerce, Laikipia Tourism Association (LTA), Laikipia Association of Conservation Educators (LACE) and rangeland officers from LWF with the aim of demystifying BATUK’s work in Kenya, in Laikipia and current engagement with local communities.

Also high on the agenda was the search of viable projects that BATUK can support, with the help and guidance of LWF. This is the first time a meeting of this nature has been held with BATUK, and is part of the development a strategic plan for BATUK and its stakeholders in the greater Laikipia area.

BATUK plays an important role in the rural economy of Laikipia. These benefits however are largely unknown and not accurately quantified.

BATUK wishes to retain a long-term working model for British military training in Kenya and to improve upon the method by which they deliver support and assistance to the area as part of their operations. A strategic plan that identifies the how, what and why of BATUK assistance to this landscape would go a long way to both educating stakeholder groups and encouraging joint commitments of human, material and financial resources to common goals.

So what are the most frequently asked questions of BATUK? Here’s what emerged from the meeting.

  1. SecurityCan BATUK provide security training?

BATUK cannot provide firearms training or specific military or tactical training.

However they can provide training in certain areas where there are transferable skills. These could potentially include:

  •         Incident Management
  •         Communications
  •         Map Reading
  •         1st Aid
  1. EmploymentCan BATUK give special consideration / allocate a quota of jobs by location or tribe?

BATUK uses an open, fair and accountable selection process. The selection is made based on relevant knowledge, skills and experience.  BATUK will not give special consideration for full-time jobs based on location or tribe.

Currently jobs are advertised through the Labour Office. This will shortly expand to electronic dissemination via Facebook and the BATUK Website (once established).

  1. CommunicationsWhat is the best way of communicating with BATUK on local engagement?

Communications should be raised to the BATUK Community Engagement officer (Maj. Mike White) on MSSTBATUK@gmail.com.  Alternatively communications can be made via the Laikipia Wildlife Forum.

  1. Education Can BATUK sponsor scholarships for students?

There are many students who would benefit from scholarship opportunities to offer them a chance of receiving education funding and BATUK is investigating a scholarship programme for implementation.

  1. ContractsHow do Laikipian businesses access BATUK contracting opportunities?

BATUK adopts an open and transparent procurement process.  Now that the DCA has been ratified, giving BATUK longer term certainty, BATUK is trying to increase its local sourcing. The key issues for BATUK are ensuring local businesses can provide:

  •         Quality of service
  •         Value for Money
  •         Volume

BATUK is advertising its requirements as widely as possible and is already engaged with the Nanyuki Economic Forum on this issue with plans of meeting the Laikipia Chamber of Commerce to discuss inclusion further.

  1. WaterCan BATUK help water storage initiatives?

BATUK takes water conservation projects very seriously. They recently successfully installed a water harvesting system for Kinamba dispensary. During the meeting, the Mount Kenya/Ewaso Water Partnership identified areas where BATUK could assist the water storage in Laikipia – through Dams, Water Pans and the WASH Sanitation programme. A follow up meeting between MKEWP and BATUK has been scheduled and we will be keeping you informed of what emerges.

  1. Veterinarian ServicesCan BATUK assist with veterinarian services?

BATUK acknowledges the importance of livestock in Kenya. BATUK does not have any integral vets on staff. However they are trying to incorporate the provision of veterinarian services as part of the Ex SERPENT health outreach programme.

      8. EnvironmentWhat does BATUK do to protect the environment from its training activities? Here are some of the ways

  • BATUK does not cut any new tracks during their activities.
  • BATUK only conducts track remediation with the written approval of the County Government
  • All BATUK’s vehicles are emissions tested and use drip trays to prevent pollution contamination of the environment.
  • BATUK repairs any damage done during training.
  • BATUK has a recycling programme to reduce waste.
  • BATUK has instigated a water conservation programme across it base and accommodation locations and that includes a hosepipe ban and a car wash ban.
  1. Community Engagement ProjectsCan BATUK help with schools/water/roads?

BATUK can use its spare military capability to conduct Community Engagement activities – and is keen to do so.

Funding has to be requested for each task.

Requests for assistance should be sent to the BATUK Community Engagement (CE) officer (Maj. Mike White) MSSTBATUK@gmail.com.  Alternatively communications can be made via Laikipia Wildlife Forum.

BATUK does not have the capacity to undertake every CE request received.  Projects will be considered and prioritised to determine which tasks BATUK can undertake and when.

  1. TrainingDoes BATUK train on group ranches?

BATUK is scheduled to train on the Ole Naishu and Lolldaiga areas in the near future. There are lots of cattle in these areas that may interfere with the Training Exercise. BATUK requested assistance from the Group Ranch Chairman surrounding Ole Naishu and Lolldaiga and LWF will facilitate meetings with the Chumvi and Makurian communities.

Communities and various stakeholders will have the opportunity to meet with BATUK every 3 months going forward. LWF has been asked to serve as intermediary and  will keep you updated.

“When I see a rhino, I see human life”

 

Rianto Lokoran is a National Police reservist (NPR) and ranger at Borana Conservancy in Laikipia County. Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) had the privilege of interviewing him at the local primary school in his home town of Ethi. Rianto has been a ranger at the conservancy for the last 9 years. He has moved up the ranks and now has a supervisory role as head NPR. He is part of the anti-poaching unit; the armed unit that protects rhinos on Borana and is in charge of deployment of rangers into the field each day. 95% of the employees at Borana conservancy are from the local communities surrounding the conservancy. For Rianto, he not only supports his family but also supports the community. We caught up with him to find out just what makes being a ranger so special.

Why did you decide to become a ranger?
“My passion for wildlife. I grew up herding cattle in Ngare Ndare forest. It was my time in the forest where I learned and fell in love with all the plants and wildlife. To be a good ranger, you must have and show a true passion for wildlife. I have that passion. I also want to protect wildlife for current and future generations and the only way I know how to do this is by being a ranger.”

What is the recruitment process and how do you recommend others to become a ranger?

“Borana conservancy will put out an advertisement for rangers from the local community. It is up to your community’s council of elders to select 2 individuals from each community. These individuals are interviewed and selected based on their answers and the following characteristics: hardworking, trustworthy, come from the local communities and passion and love of wildlife. A higher education and computer skills are a plus, but not mandatory. I recommend others to work hard for such a career.”

What is the most challenging task as a ranger?

“When you have intel (intelligence) on poaching and know that there is a possible attack on Borana, but you don’t know where they will attack or who they are. There have been issues where poachers may even threaten you personally or threaten your family. This is exceptionally challenging.”

What is most rewarding about being a ranger?

“When people, especially the community, recognises your hard work and effort. When I bring home 10kg of flour, I have to share it with my bigger family, the community. I can’t save all that flour for my own family. My family taught me the importance of sharing with everyone around you. I, through my job, not only support my family of 5, but my neighbours and my community.”

What is your opinion on rhinos and rhino conservation?

“When I see a rhino, I see human life. For me, the existence of rhinos allows me to put something on the table for my family. These rhinos employ me. Because of these rhinos, I have a job, and because of that job, I am able to purchase the basic needs for my family and community. Also, I care about these animals. They are iconic species and I can see them surviving for future generations because of conservation work.

 

What else would like the community to know about you or your job?

“I am part of the community. Even if I am a ranger/NPR, don’t take me as a different person. I am still part of all of you.”

Some more personal facts about Rianto
Favourite animal: Lion
Favourite food: Ugali and meat
Hobbies: tending to his cows, sheep, donkeys, goats and farm. Spending time with his family.
Family: Married with three daughters, aged 11, 6 and 8 months.

The Kids Twiga Tally Challenge

Citizen Science gets another big boost in Laikipia – with kids leading the way!

Kids from Nairobi and Laikipia got a great chance to participate in an exciting wildlife research project. On Saturday the 5th of March, a diverse group of school kids contributed to the changing face of conservation education and learning in Laikipia by joining scientists to study the population of giraffe in Laikipia.

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The event, dubbed the Kids Twiga Tally Challenge, engaged the helping hands of 70 school children to take pictures of giraffes within Laikipia at Mpala and Ol Jogi Conservancies, in an attempt to count them by identifying each individual. The cameras that the children used are equipped with Image Based Ecological Information System (or IBEIS) software, which cleverly identifies animals’ markings; much like a fingerprint scanner would identify a person.

The creator of this technology, Dr. Daniel Rubenstein, is a professor of ecology at Princeton University. He teaches regularly about mammal ecology at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia. Dr. Rubenstein and the Grevy Zebra Trust joined together with conservation partners in Northern Kenya to gather data on Grevy’s Zebra (and used it successfully with the help of the local community in the Great Grevy’s Rally in January 2016). It was this previous success that led researchers to plan the giraffe count. The count aims to answer a fundamental question: are giraffe numbers and the social composition of giraffe groups different on conservancies than on group ranches, and why?

Dr. Paula Kahumbu talks with a citizen scientist from Kibera Girls School

Dr. Paula Kahumbu talks with a citizen scientist from Kibera Girls School

The Kids Twiga Tally Challenge came to fruition through the energy and commitment of several different groups and individuals. Dr. Paula Kahumbu, director of Wildlife Direct and NTV Wild, was deeply involved, speaking to the children at the start of the day in order to engage them and prepare them for what they were being asked to do. Dr. Dino Martins, a committed naturalist and the director of Mpala Research Centre, was also instrumental in organizing the event. The Laikipia Wildlife Forum, a major supporter of the Great Grevy’s Rally, also supported the Laikipia primary school kids’ participation. NTV covered the event for public television.

Further engendering the “citizen science” approach to learning, Laikipia Wildlife Forum’s main aim with the Twiga Challenge is to promote Laikipia as a safe and fun learning environment for students and their families. In keeping with its Wild Class program for conservation education, LWF believes that Laikipia is a perfect ‘natural classroom’ because of its high concentration of species as well as its unique local communities committed to conserving them. The Twiga Challenge presents the perfect opportunity to engage Kenyan children in major wildlife research questions, and to help them have fun and learn at the same time. The results of this work could help us to manage our conservancies better for reticulated giraffes.

Mpala Academy strikes a pose

Mpala Academy strikes a pose

Estimates put the population of giraffe in Africa at less than 80,000 individuals across all subspecies. The reticulated giraffe of Laikipia belong to a population that used to roam Somalia, Southern Ethiopia, and Northern Kenya. Their population is now estimated be less than 7,500 individuals.

Several schools attended the event, representing children from various geographical, economic and cultural backgrounds in Kenya. Each bus that went out to photograph the giraffe contained carefully mixed groups of children, connecting many of them for the first time. Some children had never set foot outside of Nairobi, let alone seen wildlife, such as the Kibera Girls School. Others, such as Mpala Academy, have had the Laikipia landscape as their campus, yet have never had the opportunity to learn about it in such a unique way. Each school was accompanied by an enthusiastic teacher who prepared them with questions as well as specific goals to attain from the experience.

LWF will continue to organize Wild Class and citizen science events as part of its new conservation education programming and partnership with membership conservancies. The Kids Twiga Tally Challenge was just another project in collaboration with the Mpala Research Centre.

Stay tuned for the results of the Kids Twiga Tally Challenge in our next issue!

Primary Schools that attended the Kids Twiga Tally Challenge were: Ndururi Primary School, Kibera Girls School, Brookhouse Academy, St. Christopher’s (Nanyuki), Mpala Academy, Kimanjo Primary, and Ol Gaboli.

Lives of Laikipia

LWF news15Michael Dyer is a third generation Kenyan, born in Laikipia in 1961. Having completed his education in England and Scotland, he worked as a cowboy in Montana and Australia before returning to take over Borana one of the family properties.

Borana in 1984 was a traditional cattle and sheep ranch, but Michael soon set about rehabilitating the ranch and adjacent wilderness to the pristine and viable eco-system that it is today. Working closely with the Craig family on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, he played an instrumental role in developing the award winning Il N’gwesi Group Ranch.

This has been such a huge conservation success that it has been replicated across Northern Kenya under the auspices of the Northern Rangeland Trust.

A founder member of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum, this innovative and creative approach to wildlife and ecosystem management has seen year by year increases in landscape set aside for conservation, with recent large mammal counts showing in excess of 5,500 elephants in the Laikipia – Ewaso Ecosystem.

It is within this wilderness that Michael and his wife Nicky developed Borana Lodge and Laragai House, the bases for their exciting and adventurous riding safaris. Michael is a keen polo player, twice making the national team. He is also a pilot with over 4000 hours of bush flying. Michael and Nicky’s work in conservation and humanitarian issues was globally recognised when they won the Virgin Atlantic Responsible Tourism Award for Poverty Alleviation in 2007. (http://epicquest.com/guides).

We asked Michael to tell us a tale from one of his many adventures around the world and here’s what he said:

“I lost my watch once sliding down sand dunes in Kenya’s Tana Delta region. I never thought that I would ever see that watch again. I even left instructions with the owner of the lodge where we were staying. I asked him to please let me know if anyone found it. Of course i knew there was a remote chance that I would ever see that watch again. 3 years later as I was dropping off my kids at school, a student at the school walked up to me holding a brown envelope and ever so casually said “I have a present for you” and handed me the envelope. And there right inside was my watch! I couldn’t believe it. I gave him the new watch that I had recently bought – can you imagine he found my watch while sliding down the same sand dunes? It was unbelievable!”

Participatory Micro-Zoning Reduces Threats to Forests

African Wildlife Foundation’s Sustainable Opportunities for Improving Livelihoods (SOIL) program, which has been embedded as part of the Foundation’s Kenya programming in the Samburu landscape for the past two years, has been a very interesting and hands-on intervention.

Based on 24 months of implementation, AWF believes that SOIL’s efforts to organise farmers and pastoralists, by improving technical support to them and exploring alternative market opportunities for them, was key in improving their lives. SOIL is designed to conserve forest resources, including carbon. Armed with several years of data and analysis, the players were able to hone in on specific macro-zones to address, hectare by hectare, how land is perceived, used and managed.

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These forests are essential to ensuring biodiversity because they connect with protected forest blocks that are normally demarcated as non-permanent forest. Non-permanent forest tends to be degraded and damaged due to agriculture and other commercial activities. Formalized voluntary agreements were introduced with local communities. These created explicit associations between voluntarily giving up certain areas of forest designated for conservation, in return for support for agricultural investment in other areas. AWF also led participatory micro-zoning and delivered livelihood programs for more than 5,000 households in 27 villages around the Kirisia/Lerroghi forest. With AWF’s facilitation, these community members have joined with local authorities to execute fine-scale and hands-on mapping and data collection in order to understand, discuss and ultimately designate land appropriately.

Eventually, 91,944 hectares were designated as permanent forest and 18,319 hectares as non-permanent forest. The agreement that outlines the zones has been validated by county government authorities in an effort to institutionalize the process. It has not been signed yet but activities proposed in the plan are being implemented. Currently all partners and players are working with both local and national government to formalize and disseminate operational guides. They hope to develop communication strategies which will continue to refine and promote zoning methodologies. This will help to prioritize and conserve important forest areas while still creating the space and means to help rural poor people improve their quality of life.

LWF and MRC to Sponsor Aerial Sample Survey of Wildlife

For years, the Mpala Research Centre (MRC) and LWF have worked together on conservation and rangeland issues in Laikipia. But over time, the connection between the two organisations has become weakened as the relationship became less defined.

That’s now changing. Through each organisation’s new directors, the future looks better for applied research, citizen science and public information about research projects important to Laikipia.

Director of the MRC, Dr. Dino Martins, and Peter Hetz, LWF Executive Director, recently met to discuss how to strengthen their collaboration. MRC hosts a number of recent and long-term research projects that are not well known to LWF membership. Yet the results of some of the research work can help management decision-making in Laikipia.

Recent cooperation has focused on “TICK” Day – the presentation to farmers and communities of the results of tick research being done in Laikipia. The costs related to tick control and tick diseases have a big impact on the people of Laikipia.

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There will be more accessible information on the results of the tick study as results emerge.

More recently, the collaboration extended to the Great Grevy’s Rally, where scientists at MRC made cameras and software available to help with the great rally to identify and count the endangered Grevy’s Zebras in Kenya. MRC and LWF were partners on this big event.

LWF and MRC will soon jointly sponsor an aerial sample survey of wildlife, livestock, land types and settlements in Laikipia, Lerogi, and Lewa. Working with NRT, we will extend the survey work into NRT conservancies in Isiolo, Marsabit and Samburu Counties. The aerial count will be conducted with the GOK, and takes place in early April 2016. The results of the survey will be shared with the public in efforts to help with wildlife conservation, and livestock/rangelands management. The last survey was conducted in 2012.

“I see the future of Mpala Research Centre to be the focus of all types of research that are needed in Laikipia,” says Dr. Martins. “We take this role very seriously, as it’s called for in the Kenya Constitution. We are an important source of information for the public and the County. We must support all forms of information that contribute to improvements in our social, economic, and natural systems. We see the role of LWF in helping us to identify these research topics, and to help in popularising the progress of these projects and their results.”

“As we move forward, watch for more collaboration between us on social, economic and ecological research that affects our members in Laikipia!” says, Peter Hetz. LWF and MRC will soon host a series of meetings to discuss these research priorities – with ranches in March, with community groups in April, and with Government authorities in May. Stay tuned for more information on locations and dates.

Addressing Climate Change Requires Strong Partnerships

Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) and Northern Rangeland Trust (NRT) implement various projects in the Ewaso Ecosystem, a region that is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Extreme shifts in weather patterns in Laikipia have led to adverse impacts on social, physical, ecological and economic systems. People suffer from water shortages and failed crops. They hungrily search for food and pastures.

Together, NRT and LWF are working with Planning for Resilience in East Africa to address climate change. Through key programs such as Policy Adaptation, Research and Economic Development (PREPARED), or the Regional Center for Mapping Resource for Development (RCMRD/SEVIR), they hope to come up with a Vulnerability Impact Assessment (VIA) model. “This model will eventually help NRT, LWF and the Ewaso Ecosystem communities make decisions about ways to adapt to climate change. Climate change is a real threat, and we will need all the innovation and community participation we can muster in order to adapt successfully”, says Peter Hetz, LWF’s Executive Director.

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Laikipia has been experiencing declining crop yields and food insecurity, particularly in areas where pastoralism is practiced. The long rains are often slow to begin. Grazing areas go for long periods without rainfall, rendering the landscape barren and unusable. Mount Kenya is part of the larger Ewaso Ecosystem and most rivers in Laikipia originate from it. Only 10 of the 18 glaciers that covered Mount Kenya’s summit a century ago remain, leaving less than one third of the previous ice cover. The ice on Mount Kenya has also become thinner. Emerging evidence suggests that this decline has accelerated since the 1970s. By 2010, Lewis Glacier (the largest on Mount Kenya) decreased by 90% in volume since 1934. The highest rates of ice-volume loss occurred around the turn of the century (Prinz, et al.,2011). Mount Kenya is valuable for timber, farmland, and tourism and its forested slopes are critical for water catchment, acting as “water towers” for much of the country (UNEP 2009). Climate change impacts glaciers, which in turn affects the seasonal flow of springs and rivers running through Laikipia County.

At the end of 2015, not only was the threat of drought an issue in Laikipia, but so was flooding. Major towns like Nanyuki experienced water rationing. Similarly, there have been increased conflicts reported by the Kenya Police as well as conservationists among pastoralist communities.

All this evidence points to the fact that now, more than ever, Laikipians need to make sure that water withdrawal from the region’s rivers and streams is carefully planned. Laws regarding water conservation and management must be adhered to. Too many people are appropriating water without stopping to consider the ramifications. Being more mindful about water use will help reduce conflict during Laikipia’s dry season.

Many community stressors are linked to our current unpredictable weather changes. It is our hope that the Vulnerability Impact assessment (VIA) model may help organisations and county government to adapt properly to climate change, enabling them to better address the issues in adequate time. Partnerships between entities such as NRT, LWF, and local legislative offices will be critical factors in mitigating climate change in Laikipia

Ol Jogi Conservancy Opens a New Wildlife Corridor

As the world celebrated World Wildlife Day, Laikipia Wildlife Forum joined Ol Jogi Conservancy to commemorate the official opening of a wildlife corridor. This corridor will enable the free movement of wildlife from the Ol Jogi conservancy to neighboring conservancies and beyond. This free movement will enable the dispersal of animals to other areas with abundant food, especially during the dry season. Jamie Gaymer, the security Manager at Ol Jogi Conservancy, observed that since they completed the construction of the corridor “there has been zero movement of animals to community lands hence reducing human wildlife conflicts”. A resident in Kimandura, Mr Ole Tipipi, appreciated the presence of the corridor. “This new corridor actually helps to reduce cattle theft in the area too”, he declared. “We now find that cattle must pass through the gates specifically designed as part of the corridor, thus reducing general cattle movement along the road unimpeded!”

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The communities largely appreciated the joined efforts of Ol Jogi Conservancy and other partners for their contribution to conservation activities and promoting the community’s welfare.

The occasion was also attended by a delegation from residents of Laikipia West, keen to put up elephant proof fences with wildlife corridors along the Rumuruti forest.

LWF played an important role in bringing landowners together to finance this important wildlife corridor. Landowners from Enasoit, Lolldaiga Hills, and Ole Naishu contributed as well. EKN funds were used to facilitate the commemoration of World Wildlife Day activities, as part of their contribution to wildlife conservation and management in the Laikipia landscape.

Wild Class

Picture this: It is a Thursday morning two weeks before exams and you’re learning about factors influencing the distribution of wildlife in East Africa. Your teacher is throwing around phrases like ‘spatial dynamics of landscapes’ and ‘grazing behaviours’. The wildest animal you have ever seen is your neighbour’s cat that makes strange noises at night outside your bedroom window. The wildest landscape you have ever seen is your uncle’s back yard. Your classmates are all looking confused because they too have never seen wildlife or landscapes and so you raise your voice with confidence and shout, “Yes! Wild landscapes exist in Nairobi!” Your teacher laughs kindly and says, “No, let’s go out on a field trip and will I show you what am really talking about”.

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Two students talk about counting giraffes at Mpala Raanch, Laikipia

On leaving the classroom, you are guided to a bus with the words Laikipia Wildlife Forum written on the side. In two hours’ time you are at a conservancy gate, and you begin to realize what a different kind of experience this is going to be. The guide at the gate welcomes you to the conservancy and explains what is in store for you. Before you know it, you are seeing zebra, elephant and rhino, all in their natural habitats. Things which previously came alive to you in pictures or in textbooks now are right in front of your eyes, living and breathing. You are overwhelmed and you feel a little nervous, but it is also really cool. Will these animals attack us? You wonder inwardly, but the feeling of excitement quickly takes over as you and your classmates are shown how to hand-feed a black rhino. This is what is called ‘experiential learning’. Learning by seeing, touching and experiencing.

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Young boy takes notes about wildlife in LWF bus

Laikipia Wildlife Forum, supported by EKN and USAID (in partnership with Conservation Educationists in Laikipia and Northern Kenya) has for a significant period of time invested in experiential learning. This special kind of learning has enabled young people, predominantly from Laikipia County, to enjoy firsthand experiences of Conservation Education; and this is what we now call Wild Class.

In an effort to transition Conservation Education into a more sustainable land-use activity, Wild Class allows kids from various economic backgrounds, both locally and from all over Kenya, to participate in handson, experiential learning. More than ten conservancies in Laikipia and northern Kenya have come together to develop Wild Class. The conservancies all offer their own unique experiences, from learning trigonometry through making origami in the wild to embracing Conservation Education through Art and Art Forms; or being able to learn about endangered species whilst getting a chance to actually touch them. Through structured experiences and activities targeted at various age groups, the Conservation Education programs enable youngsters to fully comprehend in a tangible way how natural resources and ecosystems affect each other as well as how these resources can be used wisely. The experiential learning process encourages critical thinking and challenges the learners to develop their own theories about conserving the natural resources that surround them, and which are part of their heritage as Kenyans.

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Back to our narrative: As you head back to school you feel like an environmental guru. I mean, you fed a black rhino, got to see wild animals you have only seen on Animal Planet, walked down a river bed, and then you saw llamas (not endemic to Kenya, obviously) and exotic birds without leaving the country! At this point you are back at school and the Laikipia Wildlife Forum Conservation Education officer gives you a recap of the day and tells you that the next adventure will be travelling to learn about Wetlands and Biodiversity. Leonardo DiCaprio has nothing on you at this point, because now you are a member of the Wild Class!