Lives of Laikipia: Florence Syombua

Nanyuki town just wouldn’t be the same without all the curio shops lining the streets. Over and above the usual sandals and bracelets, there are artistic pieces unique to the region. When visiting any one of the shops, it is not uncommon meet artisans who have migrated from other parts of the country to settle in Laikipia.
Meet Florence Syombua:

” I moved to Laikipia a long time ago. I loved it immediately I got here and I did not find it hard to settle down. I make most of my jewelry, something a learnt to do when I was younger. I come from the Kamba tribe and some of my fellow artists ask why I do not make jewelry from there. My answer to them is simple – I love what I make! Sometimes I will combine designs from my tribe with those of others and I find that my work becomes even more beautiful. This is the way I make my living and I might as well love what I make right?”

The Great Grevy’s Rally: Rally to Save the Grevy’s Zebras

In March 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta marked Kenya’s Wildlife Festival by burning 25 tons of Kenya’s ivory stockpile. The day was also marked by a unique event where Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Wildlife Direct and the Image-Based Ecological Information Systems (IBEIS) team, harnessed the power of Kenyan citizens to participate and contribute to scientific research. In Nairobi National Park, 75 photographers in 31 vehicles took about 10,000 images of plains zebra and giraffe from which scientists determined how these animals used the park before the onset of the rains. Through this two-day citizen science event, and using state of the art scientific analysis software (IBEIS), 2,300 plains zebras and 130 giraffes were estimated to be present in the park at that time.

Less than 2, 800 Grevy’s zebras exist in the wild, and over 90% of the total population is found in Kenya. Not only is this the largest zebra species, but it is also the most endangered zebra species on the planet. Although we know that Kenya holds the largest populations of the species, no reliable estimate of the total number of individuals in the country actually exists due the difficulty of surveying their sparse distribution across their vast habitat. In addition, Grevy’s zebras population’s age and sex structure is unknown, thus limiting our understanding of the population’s health and potential for growth. In order to determine the number of individuals and the population’s health, a large scale census is required. As a result of this need, the Great Grevy’s Rally (GGR) was conceived by members of Kenya’s Grevy’s Zebra Technical Committee.

The Great Grevy’s Rally

Based on the success of the citizen science event held in Nairobi National Park, wildlife conservationists are planning to utilise the vast potential held by ordinary citizens to determine how many Grevy’s zebras there are in Kenya. Not only will this inform conservation management for the specie, but it will also introduce Kenyan citizens to the spectacular northern landscapes. This will be the first ever national census of Grevy’s zebras. The GGR invites eager and adventurous members of the public to participate in this unique event that will raise awareness and contribute invaluably to the conservation of this flagship species.

How the GGR will work

On the 30th and 31st of January 2016, scientists, landowners, conservancy managers and members of the public will drive through designated areas in northern Kenya and photographically record every Grevy’s zebra observed over two consecutive days. Each Grevy’s zebra has a unique stripe pattern, similar to the unique nature of human fingerprints, and this is the information participants will aim to capture. The first 70 teams to sign up to the GGR will be assigned a GPS enabled digital camera to photograph the right flank of each Grevy’s zebra. The camera will simultaneously record the location, time and date to be used in analysis. Using the IBEIS software, all Grevy’s zebra individuals photographed over the two- day period will be identified and will allow scientists to estimate the size and health of national and regional Grevy’s zebras population.

The health of the Grevy’s zebras population is based on the age and sex structure of the population. Once the age and sex structure of a population is established, conservationists can determine whether the population has the potential to grow. A healthy age structure is one where juveniles and foals account for 25% of the population. The optimal population sex structure has three females for every one male. The age and sex structures of regional and national populations will be analysed and will inform conservation management strategies.

Following the rally, the photographs will be analysed and results will be available in early March.

About Citizen Science

Citizen science is all about growing the role of the public in scientific research. Like medicine, speciality knowledge can be both confusing and intimidating. Citizen science aims to demystifying scientific research by engaging people in the process of scientific investigations and pulling them into asking questions, collecting data and sharing the results.

Laikipia, and the greater Ewaso landscape have embarked on a mission to be Kenya’s very own Citizen Science destination. We want residents and visitors alike to share in the science of discovery and to engage with us in asking questions that will focus our future efforts, both for scientific investigation and management of these key, unique territories and their resources. The essence of Citizen Science is that volunteers collect and share data (information) that can be analysed by scientists and citizen participants. This information then becomes rich material for public feedback, wider public information sharing, lobbying, advocacy, funding and the development of new projects. In essence, we’re increasingly talking about the “democratisation” of science, scientific funding, and the use of scientific results.

The Great Grevy’s Rally is the first important step in this process. This scientifically supervised engagement of the public will yield the first attempted complete census of the endangered Grevy’s zebra in Kenya. It will contribute to their conservation and rehabilitation as a keystone Ewaso Landscape animal. It will also bring economic, tourism and PR benefits to the participating counties that can be judged in the millions of shillings. Perhaps the brand – ” Utafiti ya Wanainchi” will brand this landscape well into the future’, says Peter Hetz, LWF’s Executive Director.

The Partners

Members of Kenya’s Grevy’s Zebra Technical Committee along with local partners are leading the charge to organise and implement the GGR. The organising committee includes: Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Kenya Wildlife Services, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Marwell Wildlife, Northern Rangelands Trust, Samburu Trust, Saint Louis Zoo (USA), and Princeton University (USA). In addition, local partners are joining to support and facilitate the event, including Mpala Research Centre and the county governments of Isiolo, Laikipia, Marsabit and Samburu. Conservation partners are joining together to census this endangered species, and now we invite you to join the rally save the Grevy’s zebra.

For more information on how you can join the GGR visit www.greatgrevysrally.com

Green Energy Gets a Boost in Laikipia

In a renewable energy conference co-hosted by the Laikipia County Government, the German Chamber of Commerce in Kenya, and Laikipia Wildlife Forum, Deputy Governor Gitonga Kabugi pledged a new platform for Laikipia to address renewable energy policy and investments in the County. Heading a county delegation that included the County Secretary for Tourism Trade and Investment, Jane Putunoi, the Deputy Governor cited great opportunities for Laikipia County to lead the way in renewable energy development in the country.

The German Chamber of Commerce, represented by the Deputy Country Director and Head of the Energy Desk, led a private sector delegation of 5 renewable energy companies looking for opportunities to provide technical solutions to the energy demands and needs of the County. Three solar energy firms, one biogas firm, and a firm looking at energy systems presented their portfolios of technologies and performance in Africa.

The conference audience included representatives of private ranches, the Laikipia County Chamber of Commerce, green growers, and companies with an interest in off-grid energy production. With only 15% of the County’s population connected to the grid, citizen engagement, learning, enterprise development, and investment suffers.

As Laikipia County moves to brand itself as a green destination with an emphasis of sustainable natural resources management and responsible enterprise, renewable energy plays a key role. Moving the county towards more renewable sources of energy requires a wise combination of technology, financing, policy and legislation. The Deputy Governor noted that the new County Government platform will be designed to capture the vitality of the private sector and the potential role of County to set an enabling environment for renewable energy with improved access to energy incentives and cheap capital.

The first meeting for this new platform is expected to take place in January 2016.

Laikipia: Final frontier for Conservation Education

The Wildlife Clubs of Kenya (WCK), a non-governmental organisation formed in 1968 by Kenyan students, is seen by many as the organisation that started formal conservation education in the country. Although conservation education in African traditions was addressed through taboos and ethics, increased negative impacts on the environment necessitated that people take more concerted efforts in addressing their impact on the environment.

Today, Conservation Education (CE) is seen as a fundamental tool that allows young members of society to connect with nature as well as learn how to care for irreplaceable natural resources. CE is also making its mark at a time when access to the great outdoors has become increasingly difficult. Urban areas are growing in size, encroaching neighbouring forests and natural catchment areas where wildlife once thrived.

In Laikipia County however, thousands of square kilometres are filled with the most diverse wildlife, domestic animals as well as local communities who work towards the conservation of the environment and other natural resources. For years, various conservancies within Laikipia have been giving access to both local and national students, allowing them to experience and learn more about conservation in a place where conservation thrives. Majority of these young people have only come into contact with Kenya’s unique wildlife in orphanages or parks, and mostly hear about these animals from second hand sources.

Laikipia therefore, should be viewed as one of the final frontiers of conservation education, and here’s why. Since independence, wildlife and biodiversity have been viewed as collective resources whose conservation and management are the responsibility of government agencies. Education curricular confined conservation to protected parks, botanical gardens and animal orphanages. Cultural experiences would commonly be found in centres that are far removed from the people that they actually represent creating discrepancies in the narratives told. However, in Laikipia, the integrity of the landscape is arguably the most intact in Kenya, offering visitors to the County conservation enlightenment rarely experienced in other parts of the country.

Over recent years, learning institutions in Kenya, especially those located in the country’s capital, have moved towards integrating conservation into their curriculum. In response to this, and in a bid to give young minds an insight into conservation works, conservancies within Laikipia and other northern territories are playing a key role in providing first hand experiences in holistic environmental conservation. Students get to be up close and personal to landscapes, wildlife and local communities.

This dynamic use of land towards conservation education has allowed private individuals, organisations, and corporations have steadily entered into Conservation Education Enterprises (CEE). Although WCK does not own a single conservancy or influence management of National parks and game-reserves, the organisation has played a key role in the establishment of student hostels in National parks that students can access at a minimum fee. At present, WCK also generates income from the sale of merchandise, offering training to youth groups intending to join the hospitality industry and sale of membership cards that enables subsidised entry fees to National parks.

CEE’s seek to conserve biodiversity above all; however, in many cases they also seek to profit or at least break even. Conservation as a land use activity is considered extremely relevant in supporting sustainability and a viable land use activity. With the addition of education enterprise in Laikipia, it is envisaged that this will offer sustainability to conservation education, making it viable for service providers to continue offering students a place to learn more about their country’s natural resources. However, the product offering in Laikipia has to be defined and where possible improved to compete with circuits offered in other conservation hubs in Kenya such as Rift valley and the coast. The involvement of CE stakeholders is key to this process and is essential to the success of CE facilities in Laikipia. Other organisation around Kenya undertaking conservation education such as Elsamere Field Study Centre, Giraffe Centre, Haller Park and David Sheldrick have engaged in CEE as a way of staying relevant and sustainable.

Laikipia County offers immense opportunities for CEE as a form of land utilisation. Historically, Laikipia’s vast ecosystem was utilised for pastoralism purposes by nomadic communities, mainly Samburu and Masai. Land-use and land tenure have changed over the years in Laikipia and with changing land tenure, land use has changed consequently. Game ranching that was undertaken together with cattle ranching was stopped years back leaving cattle ranching as one of the main land use practices done in Laikipia. Other land uses that have proven popular in Laikipia are tourism, farming and recently, real estate establishments have been slowly mushrooming.

What Laikipia does with its CEE opportunities and offerings will have a great impact in conservation education in Kenya and will play a fundamental role in re-connecting children with nature, who will impact the inheritance of a better planet by future generations.

LWF lobbies for enforcement of Regulatory Policies protecting the environment

LWF has been working with WRMA and other stakeholders in various water conservation efforts including those found in the Upper Ewaso Nyiro Catchment Area. One of the challenges to water resource regulation and management is the rampant illegal water use within the basin. Last month, LWF and WRMA engaged the Laikipia County Government in addressing this issue.

A meeting at WRMA Rumuruti office between WRMA, LWF, Pesi WRUA and the Laikipia County Government office of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries on 19th November 2015 was held to discuss the fate of rehabilitated Thome Canal that was constructed without WRMA approvals and did not qualify for a permit. This project has created a tangible risk to the environment, economy and social wellbeing of communities living downstream. . This risk created is as a result of the current design of the weir that diverts all the stream flow to an irrigation canal.

Important questions that have arisen;

How do we decide who has priority over the water resources? Should commercial use of water have priority over domestic use? How do we ensure that domestic and commercial use of water does not lead to environmental degradation? The answers to these questions are provided for in the Water Resource Management Rules 2007 and the Water Act of 2007. The act states that the environment has priority over full domestic water demand.

Discussions held on 19th November 2015 concluded that corrective actions needed to be implemented to mitigate the potential risks. Immediate actions by the Laikipia County Government would facilitate this process before 2016, including modification of the weir to give priority environmental flow over any allocation to the furrow and installation of a closing device to allow WRMA to regulate the amount of water going into the furrow. There will also be midterm measures implemented to organise the users of the canal to form an association and, together with WRMA, conduct a survey to determine a suitable site for an irrigation project that will pipe water for facilities with 90 day storage and drip irrigation. This project will require a NEMA license and WRMA Authorisation before commencement of works.

Mt. Kenya; more than a hikers dream

Article by Annalise Williams (St. Lawrence University intern with LWF)

“Where will we get our water?” “From the mountain, of course,” replied our laughing guide. A four day trek up Mount Kenya allowed us to see firsthand the prominence of the Mount Kenya watershed. With the ever increasing development of Kenya, the region has seen a series of challenges that endanger the availability of water. Overgrazing, illegal logging, and climate change are just a few examples of the many dangers. Over seven million people rely on this watershed to survive, and for this reason the shortage of water has not gone unnoticed. Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) is one of several organisations working to improve water resource management in the county. LWF has aided in developing 23 Water Resource Users Associations (WRUAs), has worked to train and better inform its members, and also improve sub-catchment plans.

Anther organisation directly involved in water resource management on Mount Kenya is the Mount Kenya Trust (MKT). Gwili Gibbon, a conservation biologist at MKT, said, “Our focus is currently on securing the water catchment areas through the establishment of local community sourced patrol teams and working closely with KWS, KFS and Rhino Ark to ensure catchment areas are not lost.”

Although these two organisations are both exemplars of water resource management, perhaps more important than any individual organisation, is the collaboration of these groups. It is only through shared labours that large scale progress can be made. Cooperation and unified effort is how the Mount Kenya watershed will be sustained, and it is how real change will be made.

New Wildlife Act brings change for conservation

Kenya’s new Wildlife Act, assented by the president on 24th December 2013 provides an opportunity for wildlife managers and communities to benefit from wildlife conservation activities. Amendments included in this Act makes it much more friendly to conservation, as it involves local stakeholders in various conservation matters.

Compensation has also been clearly addressed in the new Act. Previously compensation was paid by the government and this was facilitated through District Wildlife Compensation Committees. Compensation under the old wildlife act only related to human death and injury. It did not include destruction of crops, livestock and property. Furthermore, the amount paid for loss of life and injury was contentiously inadequate. The process of administering the compensation claims was highly bureaucratic and did not involve local stakeholders. To correct this weakness, the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act has allowed for the establishment of County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committees (CWCCCs) for every County in Kenya. The committees will work to oversee conservation and management of wildlife in various counties, including managing compensation after human-wildlife conflict incidences have occurred

Numerous residents in Laikipia who have suffered loss of crops, livestock, and property welcome the formation of the CWCCCs as most had resigned to the fact that their claims would go unfulfilled. The CWCCCs have already gone through induction and are about to commence on the implementation of services to communities.

To date, human death and injury claims add up to approximately Kes 5 billion which in itself poses a dilemma for the government on where these funds will be sourced.

In order to clarify the content of the wildlife act, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, made several regulations to guide the implementation of the Act. These regulations will come into force on the date that they are gazetted. Regulations include those on conservancies, compensation, licensing, community participation, security, government trophies, among others.

Various conservationists have been approached to submit their views on these regulations in order to guide KWS in the revision and validation process.

LWFhas been at the forefront in mobilising Laikipians to give their comments on these regulations. The Forum has also collected views from members and forwarded them to the relevant authority.

The 23 WCMA regulations and guidelines are still under review by KWS and the KWS Board. The Board was expected to meet in November, 2015 to confirm the latest drafts, and to recommend final versions to the Cabinet Secretary for approval and posting. A final public validation meeting is likely to be held in the New Year. ​

LWF is working with the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) to ensure that the final feedback, recommendations and revisions from the membership are incorporated into the final versions and presented to the government.

LWF Strategic Planning Update

LWF is planning in order to know which path(s) to take to realise our Mission:

“To conserve Laikipia’s wildlife and ecosystem integrity and improve the lives of its people”.

To determine the direction and what we offer, we want to learn what you think about LWF’s membership services and programmes. We also want to know your views about various conservation challenges facing Laikipia, about our natural resources, and how we can tackle these issues together.

So we’re sending out teams to talk with you, to listen, and to learn. Through your participation, you will help us determine where LWF should be in 15 years, and what we have to do to get there. What services should we offer? How do we fund these services? Who do we work with as partners?

To help us in this effort, LWF has partnered with Global Platforms who will provide us with expert facilitation for meetings held all over Laikipia. There will be five teams, each including local partners and Community Liaison Officers (CLOs). The teams will also conduct at least three meetings with schools, WRUAs, CFAs and Conservation Enterprise Groups. They will meet with the public in trading centres to learn more about members’ experience and expectations for the future of LWF. Teams will also visit each of LWF’s five units in Laikipia during the months of January and February 2016. In preparation for this, the unit CLOs will alert members to these meetings, as well as help with logistics and organisation.

In addition, LWF staff will be meeting with the County Governments of Laikipia and its neighbours, with researchers and NGOs, with towns and special interest groups, and with large ranches and conservancies, asking them the same questions about LWF services, functions, and effectiveness. These additional meetings will be scheduled between January and March, 2016.

Finally, this information will be analysed and will provide the basis for three documents by the end of June namely:

  • A new Strategic Framework for LWF through 2030
  • A new Strategic Development Plan – through 2020
  • A Business/Investment Plan to address our financial sustainability.

In the meantime, LWF will continue with its programmes in water, support to Mukogodo Forest, Rangelands Management, Conservation Education, and Wildlife Conservation. We’ll continue to work with, and support our local partners to whom we are committed.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact Gilbert Momanyi, who is leading our strategic planning efforts on: Gilbert.Momanyi@laikipia.org, or 0722-783808.

Sustainable tourism makes strides in Laikipia

In a glorious, ocean-side ceremony at Diani, Laikipia County swept two awards during Ecotourism Kenya’s annual Eco Warrior awards ceremony. Constructed to complement the Kenya Tourism Board’s annual Kenya Tourism Marketplace, the Eco Warrior Awards recognise tourism players that support the environment, wildlife conservation, community, and local enterprise. The Laikipia County Government hosted one of the sustainable tourism Eco Warrior Awards for 2015.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy took the Judge’s Recommendation for best private conservancy. Ngare Ndare Forest Trust took the award for best Community Owned Enterprise.

Laikipia’s delegation was led by the County Secretary, John Mwaniki, and the County Secretary for Tourism, Trade and Enterprise, Jane Putunoi.

During the awards ceremony, LWF formally handed over Laikipia’s tourism website, www.laikipiatourism.com, to the County Government as a tool to assist in the promotion and marketing of tourism services in the county. LWF previously managed this website under its Tourism Programme.

Eco-tourism is a key source of income for the County. This however, is affected by poor natural resource management systems, environmental degradation and inadequate knowledge by local communities due to lack of sensitization. Through the help of Laikipia Wildlife Forum, the Laikipia County Government is in the process of working with Eco-tourism Kenya to explore ways in which the county can enhance its position as Kenya’s sustainable tourist destination. It is through this partnership that Laikipia County attended the 5th Edition of the annual Magical Kenya Travel Expo. Following this milestone for tourism in Laikipia, the County Government will continue to work with all tourism stakeholders in promoting Eco-tourism,” said Alice Matu – Director of Tourism with the Laikipia County Government.

Tourism Bill Update

Kenya’s first county Tourism Bill, prepared by a County Task Force, and recommended by the County Executive Committee, now waits for the County Assembly to review and ratify the Bill. This needs to be completed before the end of December. The Bill provides the framework for sustainable tourism development in the County, and calls for an inter-departmental body to coordinate tourism development in County Government departments. It also makes provision for a Public-Private County Tourism Board and a 10 Year Master Plan.

Tourism Master Plan update

​Two years ago, in anticipation of supporting tourism development in Laikipia County, LWF embarked on the development of a 10 year Master Plan. The Plan has now been fully drafted by a public-private tourism task force led by County Government and LWF. It awaits approval of the County Tourism Bill to allow for the vetting of the Master Plan with County residents and businesses.