Eastern Black Rhino (Diceros Bicornis Michaeli) Habitat Conservation as part of Laikipia’s Future – Rhino Revival.


Laikipia is at the forefront of rhinoceros conservation in Kenya. About half of Kenya’s black rhinos and 70% of Kenya’s white rhinos are found here. Moreover, Laikipia is seen as a major partner in helping the Kenya Government meet both its biodiversity conservation goals and its commitment to conserve 2000 Eastern Black Rhinos in their natural habitat by 2030.

Key to meeting these goals is the expansion of rhino Eastern Black Rhino habitat in Laikipia. The six rhino conservancies in Laikipia have a critical role to play in any further expansion of rhinos on private or community lands. However, only the Borana/Lewa/Il Ngwesi conservancies offer a contiguous territory for rhino conservation and five conservancies are close to carrying capacity for black rhinos. Three of the six rhino conservancies remain isolated, and without interconnectivity.

If Kenya is to meet its goal of 2000 black rhinos in their natural habitat, then non-state actors have a key role to play in this goal and its success.

This concept paper offers a strategic, sequenced effort to expand black rhino conservation on private and community conservancies in Laikipia.  It seeks funding to complete a feasibility study over the next year to:

  1. Examine the habitat, costs, benefits and drawbacks of black rhino expansion within the context of three of six rhino conservancies on to adjacent lands;
  2. Examine the potential for creative, sustainable and robust models of expansion of rhino habitat on to community conservancy lands
  3. Propose a business model(s) for potential expansion of private rhino conservancies In Laikipia

Strengthen the roles, scope and scale of engagement of the Association of Private Land Rhino Sanctuaries (APLRS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and County Government of Laikipia in this effort.


Rhinos: Kenya presently hosts approximately 1150 rhinos. Their population is divided between the Eastern Black Rhino (700), the Southern White Rhino ( 450) and Northern White Rhino (2). The most recent Kenyan data on national rhino conservation illustrates a net annual growth rate of 6.17% after taking into account birth rates, poaching and natural deaths. This same statistic holds true for Laikipia.

Of these numbers, almost half of Kenya’s black rhino population, and more than 70% of Kenya’s Southern White Rhino population occur in Laikipia. The last known Northern White Rhinos (2) in the world, occur in Laikipia.

Laikipia’s Rhino Conservancies: Since 1989, the private conservancies/rhino conservation areas have played a major role in the success of the recovery of rhino numbers in Kenya. Total black rhino numbers in 1985 were 351 as a result of massive poaching and habitat loss. At the end of 2016, there were 700 black rhino recorded on state and private lands. The APLRS has played a major role in the recovery and success of black rhino conservation efforts alongside the KWS; and they have contributed regularly to the Government of Kenya’s (GOK) species conservation, planning, anti-poaching, and wildlife conservation efforts.

Six Laikipia conservancies: Of the six rhino conservancies in Laikipia, 5 are poised to examine careful extension of their rhino conservancy boundaries into adjacent territories with their neighbors’ interest and consent. These include the following conservancies as represented in Figure 3.

These Core Conservancies represent the springboard from which rhino conservation could take place in adjacent areas. By linking these core conservancies to the expansion of black rhinos on community and private conservancy lands, the total area for rhino could almost double in the next five years. This expansion could well be the trigger for reaching much closer to the black rhino population goal of 2000 black rhinos by 2030.

These core conservancies offer experience, expertise, resources, and conservation commitments that far surpass other public and private vehicles for rhino conservation expansion in Kenya; and they are already carefully coordinated with the efforts of KWS.

However, rhino conservation in Laikipia is fraught with both economic and political consequences that must be examined carefully if black rhino conservation and contiguous habitat conservation are to be successful. In 2016 and 2017, Laikipia suffered an armed incursion on many private and community properties by outsiders. Some 350,000 livestock, more than 6000 herders from different ethnic groups, and illegal arms entered the County resulting in loss of life (150 lives) and property. While rhino conservancies went untouched during this period, their role in security operations and their perceived role in the landscape did not go unnoticed.

Isolated rhino conservancies should not be the future of rhino conservation in Kenya, and they certainly are not the future of rhino conservation in Laikipia. Many of the private conservancies of Laikipia maintain that a contiguous landscape is the only future for wildlife conservation in the County, and the only way of ensuring the future of rhinos and wildlife more broadly in the greater Laikipia landscape (Upper Ewaso Ng’iro Basin). This concept was put forward by Laikipia a group of landowners in a presentation called “Rhino Redux”. (see Annex 1) The concept underpins the vision of an intact landscape that demonstrates sustainable livelihood and conservation benefits from informed land use emphasizing conservation.

In addition, Laikipia is the only area in Kenya where wildlife numbers have remained relatively stable against an attrition of up to 70% for wildlife numbers in the rest of the country.


Use the next five years to conduct a considered and carefully planned extension of black rhino habitat and conservation efforts in Laikipia that benefit the conservancies, communities, and county involved in wildlife conservation, and specifically rhino conservation.

Objectives and Activities

As a first step in reach this goal, we propose a 6 month feasibility study that will examine the following objectives and provide recommendations regarding the practicality, costs and sustainability of this approach.

  1. Examine other expansion efforts, the habitat, costs, benefits and drawbacks of black rhino expansion within the context of three of six rhino conservancies in Laikipia on to adjacent lands.
    • Over the next 6 months, a team of experts will work with relevant authorities to examine the practical aspects of the expansion of rhino conservation on to properties adjacent to core conservancies. The feasibility study will examine rhino habitat, food sources, security, fencing, communications, coordination, and other aspect of rhino conservation management that impact any future expansion.
  1. Examine the potential for creative, sustainable and robust models of expansion of rhino habitat on to community conservancy lands.
    • The same team will explore models of expansion of rhino habitat on to private community lands where issues of property rights, private landownership, the new community land act, and other opportunities inform stakeholder engagement benefit sharing models that work for rhinos, individuals and communities.
  1. Propose a business model(s) for potential expansion of private rhino conservancies In Laikipia.
    • Much of the future of expanded rhino conservation will lie in the cost-savings and economies of scale that are expected from consolidation of rhino conservation territories. The feasibility study team will examine costs, cost sharing, subsidies, and financing models that can work in service to expanded rhino habitat.
  1. Strengthen the roles, scope and scale of engagement of the Association of Private Land Rhino Sanctuaries (APLRS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and County Government of Laikipia in this effort
  • The APLRS and KWS are the sole instruments of rhino conservation in the County. The feasibility study will examine how these two institutions can be further engaged and fortified in efforts to both expand rhino habitat and increase rhino numbers.

Engagement A four person team is assigned to address objectives and scope of work. (1) Team Leader/Conservation Biologist with expertise in conservation programming and endangered species; (2) Rhino specialist; (3) Community Conservation specialist with expertise in community engagement and community shareholder models;  and, (4) conservation enterprise specialist with expertise in conservation financing.

Duration         6 months

Month 1            Socialize the feasibility study, reviewing the terms of reference, activities, and outputs with a broader constituency in Laikipia and the capital. This includes County Government and Laikipia properties and communities,

Months 2-4      Conduct the feasibility study examining all 4 major objectives of the study

Month 5            Provide a review of preliminary results, recommendations, and obstacles to the goal of expanding rhino conservation in Laikipia to a variety of stakeholder groups

Month 6            Final reporting, presentation, and Action Plan

Budget             USD $ 250,000, inclusive of:

  • 4 consultants for 4 months
  • DSA
  • Travel and Transport
  • Meetings/Workshops x 20
  • Materials/Maps/Imagery
  • Grant management and admin

Feasibility Study Management and Administration

This approach, concept and feasibility study are led by the secretariat of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum. It was developed in concert with private landowners and rhino conservancies. LWF is a 25 year-old, 20,000+ strong membership organization whose vision and mission is:

A productive and robust Upper Ewaso Ng’iro landscape (15,000 sq km) that supports livelihoods and healthy populations of wildlife.

Nurture and support key stakeholder groups who can champion wildlife conservation and sustainable natural resources management and land uses in Laikipia and among its neighbors.

Annex 1

The following map is a reflection of interested Laikipia private properties (ranches and conservancies) wishing to participate in the feasibility study and its outputs/recommendations. Community private property (ranches and conservancies) are not yet illustrated in this projection of expanded rhino territories.

Borana/Lewa Conservancies and Ol Pejeta Conservancy are also the focus of a another black rhino conservation project focused on increasing the population of black rhinos on these two conservancies.

The initiative is called the Rhino Impact Investment Project (https://www.zsl.org/sites/default/files/media/2017-08/RII%20Brochure%20June%202017%20FINAL2.0.pdf) and focuses on three locations in Kenya, three in the Republic of South Africa and one in Zimbabwe. https://www.zsl.org/conservation-initiatives/animals-on-the-edge/rhino-impact-investment-project

The Project does not focus on the expansion of rhino habitat on private lands (community or individual).

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