“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!

The Great Grevy’s Rally; Adventures on Loisaba Conservancy A Citizen Scientist View of the Great Grevy’s Rally

The main sentiments felt within our small group of citizen scientists as we headed into the field that Friday the 29th of January was probably ‘Let’s not get eaten by lions’. By the time we returned to Nanyuki at the end of the weekend, those sentiments had changed to ‘Let’s do this again!’

Our group of eight was composed of an eclectic mix: two biologists (neither with any experience with Grevy’s sampling), one logistics officer, one project manager for an embassy, one communications officer, one photographer, one economist and one finance intern working for a start-up company. Some of us had never been camping in the bush, some had never been in a four-wheel drive vehicle, and some of us, amazingly, had never stepped in mud! All of us were, however, very excited to be spending the weekend adventuring for a worthy cause. We started off with registration and training from the organisers in Nanyuki, as well as receiving directions, maps and last minute prepping before being released into the wild.

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The drive up from Nanyuki to Loisaba was largely uneventful and we were even afforded some breaks to take in the scenery and get a head start on our photography. After lots of winding roads and impossibly beautiful panoramas, we arrived at the campsite at dusk. There we were greeted by Dale, the Conservancy manager, and Fiona, who runs the tourism business. After assigning us our target areas, our maps and our personal guides (who also doubled as our last line of defence against lion attacks), they left us to set our tents up and begin our adventure in earnest. The campsite was simple but we had everything we needed; water, food, shelter and, most importantly, firewood for a bonfire.

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We set off early the next morning with the two vehicles in our group dividing up the 56,000 acre property between them. We had been assigned specific blocks, and we attempted to make our way through them as best as we could. Dale had warned us that the Grevy’s might have moved around onto other properties after the rains, so we had cautious expectations. Both teams did manage to spot more than a dozen Grevy’s each, and the good weather and general flat terrain meant that we had an excellent chance of getting photos of the animals’ requisite right flank for use in identification and matching. Some of the zebra proved to be restless subject matter, and we had to spend some time coaxing them to pose for us. Even then they would stubbornly turn in unison and face the wrong way. Extreme measures often had to be taken in order to acquire a usable shot of a particular zebra, including driving through dry river beds, up imposing kopjes or bobbing and weaving through thick bushes. Through all this, we were lucky to see many other ungulates and assorted wildlife, including Impala, Gazelle, Oryx and the more common but only slightly less elegant plains zebra. After a late afternoon Sundowner at one of Loisaba’s upcoming lodges on the escarpment, we went back to camp for the night.

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The following day was mainly an attempt at recreating the previous day’s sampling blocks. Success was varied, and we won’t be sure what percentage of the sightings we saw that afternoon until the photos are analysed. We broke camp and drove off in the early afternoon, enjoying the picturesque scenery. We felt thoroughly satisfied with our camping adventure and our small contribution towards science. This contribution hopefully will provide the necessary data to continue protecting the majestic Grevy’s zebra.

GGR Update

Thank you so much to all citizen scientists for your participation in the Great Grevy’s Rally (GGR) as well as the County Government of Laikipia, landowners, conservancies and partner organisations for supporting the historic event. As a result of your involvement, the GGR was able to sample 45 counting blocks covering over 25,000 sq. km in the first ever age structured census of the endangered Grevy’s zebra.

The initial estimate is that there were over 50,000 images taken! The Rally brought together conservancy managers, National Reserve wardens, tourism partners, conservation organisations, county governments, research scientists and interested members of the public from many parts of Kenya. The Rally also represents one of the biggest collaborations of conservation organisations in northern Kenya and garnered strong support from the Samburu, Laikipia, Isiolo and Marsabit counties, demonstrating the power of devolution and support from local communities.

The disk with all the images will make its way back to the US within a couple of weeks and then the IBEIS team will identify all the unique individuals seen and compare the sightings on the first day with the sightings of the second day to estimate the size of Grevy’s zebra populations by region and nationally.

The next step will then be to examine the photos to assign ages (adult, juvenile, foal) to each uniquely identified individual. Dan Rubenstein will create a Zooniverse website so that volunteers worldwide can help review the thousands of images and categorise Grevy’s zebra age classes. The public will be notified when the Zooniverse site goes live so that anyone interested can help out again as a citizen scientist! You don’t have to be an expert on Grevy’s zebra ageing as there are hundreds of people working on the images thus drawing on the power of the crowd which will produce weighted and more accurate results.

We look forward to sharing more news in due course and thank you again for taking part in this unique citizen science event to save one of Kenya’s most iconic species!

For frequent updates please log on to the GGR website: http://www.greatgrevysrally.com

Little LWF gets Support from big TNC

LWF and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) are working together to promote the unity and conservation of Laikipia’s landscapes for both people and wildlife.

Born out of the LWF mission to conserve wildlife and ecosystem integrity and to improve the lives of its people, LWF and TNC share a set of values for conservation of the land and water upon which life depends.

The partnership will help LWF with its new strategic and business plans, and with development of a conservation land trust. LWF and TNC agreed last year to equally share the costs in this effort, with USAID underwriting LWF’s investment.

Founded in the United States in the 1950s, The Nature Conservancy is one of the world’s largest conservation non-profits. TNC works collaboratively with local communities, landowners, governments, and others to promote the conservation and sustainable use of lands, waters and oceans. They take a non-partisan, non-confrontational approach to finding solutions that work for everyone. With support from its one million members, TNC has helped to protect some 120 million acres worldwide.

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LWF is 24 years old, and supported by some 6000 members. It has helped to conserve over 6200 acres across Laikipia, including many of the private conservancies and community conservancies such as Naibunga, Il Ngwesi, and Lekkuruki.

Kent Wommack, TNC’s Senior Strategist for International Programs, is working with LWF in Nanyuki over the next several months. Kent is one of TNC’s most experienced field leaders, having helped initiate or manage TNC’s programs in Maine, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We sat down with Kent to talk about this partnership with LWF.

LWF: You have worked in conservation for over 30 years. What lessons have you learned?

Kent: Years ago, many people thought the key to protecting wildlife was simply to establish parks and other protected areas – to provide safe sanctuaries for wildlife apart from human communities. While protected areas can be useful, the real need today is to find ways for people and wildlife to co-exist on the landscape, because generally what is good for one is good for the other.

The key to successful conservation is to recognize that people are very much a part of the landscape, and that people and wildlife in fact need the same things – clean water, healthy productive land that grows food, open space to move around, peace and security.

LWF: Tell us about TNC’s work in Africa.

Kent: We work in a half dozen countries in Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Gabon. Here in northern Kenya, we have been very involved with protection of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Loisaba ranch. TNC does not own either of these properties, but instead has helped set them up as conservancies, owned by local Trusts and managed by their own independent boards.

We have also helped support the Northern Rangelands Trust, which has grown considerably over the last few years. The NRT model is based on a belief that pastoralists must be full partners in managing rangelands, and that the benefits from good management should flow to local communities, so everyone is rewarded for their efforts to conserve open space and wildlife habitat.

LWF: Why is TNC investing so strongly in this partnership with LWF?

Kent: Laikipia is one of Kenya’s most intact landscapes, and is home to an extraordinary array of wildlife and endangered species. It is also a growing destination for eco-tourism and environmental education, which generates local jobs and revenue.

Keeping this landscape open and unfragmented will benefit people, livestock and wildlife for years to come, but it requires hard work and collaboration between many interests – county government, pastoralists, landowners and more. LWF is widely respected in its ability to bring these parties together to identify common interests, provide good science, craft new solutions and secure funding to protect Laikipia’s landscape.

LWF: What are the major challenges facing Laikipia?

Kent: Scientific studies show, and pastoralists confirm, that northern Kenya’s grasslands have been seriously degraded over time. Less grass means less food for both native wildlife, livestock and people too. Illegal invasions by pastoralists heightens conflict across the region. Helping local residents and landowners protect and sustainably manage their resources will make Laikipia stronger and more secure.

LWF: What can be done to protect Laikipia’s intact landscape?

Kent: Landowners – whether private ranchers, conservancies or group ranches – are critically important partners. Most are deeply committed to being good neighbours by generating employment, revenue and food, as well as protecting wildlife. We must find ways to encourage and support these activities for the good of the whole region.

Among other ideas, we are exploring the creation of a land trust for Laikipia that could hold “conservation easements” on key parcels, thereby ensuring their long term protection by restricting uses that might damage the land’s productivity for grazing and wildlife.

LWF: Any last thoughts?

Kent: I am looking forward to working with LWF over the next few months. This is a very important organization with great potential for shaping a bright future for Laikipia’s people and wildlife.