Saving the Mara through conservancies

Open fields for animals to freely move. PHOTO: JECKONIA OTIENO

John Kisemi has a home set in the midst of thorny shrubs with two livestock enclosures beside his modest house.

One interesting feature of the livestock pen is that it has metallic poles rising to about three metres high and a net wire fence. Beside it is one which is made of wood and a wire fence.

These two pens mark the only fenced area, in Kisemi’s 80 acre piece of land, in a new conservation concept aimed at conserving the heritage of the Maasai Mara Ecosystem. He has another 200 acres which he has leased to Mutoroi Conservancy.

Kisemi’s land lies within Pardamat Conservancy, one of the 14 conservancies which have been set up by the local communities with the help of partners to ensure that people, livestock and wild animals utilise available resources while at the same time reducing cases of human-wildlife conflict.

Last year, Kisemi was on the receiving end as he lost livestock to lions which broke into the old pen and killed 30 goats.

This necessitated construction of the new metallic fence which wild animals cannot break into.

“Right now, I am sure no predator can attack my livestock since the fence I have put in place is stronger and not vulnerable to termites which would weaken the previous wooden livestock pens,” he says.

In the plains of Maasai Mara, Narok County, it is commonplace to see livestock and wild animals grazing together.

Herbivores like wildebeest, gazelles and buffaloes are notable but you cannot miss hyenas and an occasional cheetah during the day.

The conservancy concept being used is leading to more appreciation of wildlife as the local community benefits directly from wildlife conservation.

Land owners lease their land for a period of 15 years to the conservancy and they get a return for it – it works like a controlled development concept. It started in 2010.

The arrangement being championed by the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancy Association (MMWCA) allows for mixed land use which prohibits cultivation of the land but only allows grazing by pastoralists.

It also prohibits building of fences so as to allow pastoralists and wild animals move freely within the conservancy area.

According to Dr Noah Sitati, MMWCA CEO, the association consists of a regional membership, which aims to secure dispersal areas outside the Masai Mara Game Reserve, which is part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem.

“The Mara Reserve itself cannot sustain wildlife with about 70 per cent of them living outside the gazzetted conservation area,” says Dr Sitati who further points that without the dispersal area then the Masai Mara would die.

Sitati sheds light on the damage that has faced the Mara Ecosystem as he say that in just 40 years, the area has lost 60 per cent of its wildlife population and this is mainly due to land subdivision and fencing as well as human wildlife conflicts.

“We have, therefore, identified key diversity areas which make up 14 conservancies and this is even larger than the Masai Mara Game Reserve,” he says.

The land under conservancies is 1,700 square kilometers as compared to the reserve which is 1,500 square kilometers, thus making it a key area supporting wildlife. The Greater Mara is made up of 668,500 hectares.

A research on the Mara published in the journal Scientific Reports, notes that formalisation of the land tenure system across the ecosystem led to establishment of group ranches which further led to subdivision.

The report notes: “The fences appear in a range of different constructions, the majority of which are enclosures resulting from the enclosure of private land plots.”

The study, titled Fencing bodes a rapid collapse of the Greater Mara Ecosystem, predicted that continued fencing would also render pastoralism and the Maasai’s semi nomadic lifestyle unsustainable.

But how is this new concept working?

With 14 conservancies as members and three more planning to join, 6,000 landowners have been roped into a system that will allow them to earn from conservation. The move has attracted 45 tourism partners.

Daniel Sopia of MMWCA says there are a total 147,000 hectares under conservation. The land owners have titles and they join to form conservancies through which they are paid a monthly income for their land.

“The landowners are earning a monthly income of about Sh40 million each month to landowners who have leased their land to conservancies; this translates into Sh4.5 billion going directly to land owners,” says Sopia.

The conservancies are not only offering a novel model of managing conservation but has also employed 1,500 people as rangers and those working within the tourism camps and lodges.

“What the world needs to realise is that conservancies are the best way to secure land especially where land has been subdivided and is owned by individuals,” says Sopia.

Sopia says that despite the achievement, government support is still needed especially the compensation of cases where human-wildlife conflicts have occurred.

He says: “Families who have lost people to wildlife are yet to be compensated. This is leading to apathy towards animals but the new model seeks to reduce such cases.”

Francis Koitoi, chair of MMWCA, says it is not cheap to mobilise landowners to come together under one strategy where wildlife can move freely and tourism is made an activity.

“We cannot live without livestock or wildlife because we found our forefathers conserving this land and having not damaged the wildlife and we are seeking to make wildlife part of our lives too,” says Koitoi.

He further points out that the removal of fences is one of the ways to ensure that wildlife have safe migration corridors within the conservancies and the entire ecosystem.

This means that the land cannot be put to other uses like cultivation or real estate. In fact, the community is being urged to move to town centres which are found within the conservancies to allow for easier provision of services and prevent rampant and haphazard real estate development.

To reduce cases of children encountering wild animals when going to school, boarding schools are coming up to ensure safety of as many learners as possible.

We meet Simon Miyian bringing down the fence along his 90-acre family land which before used to be an elephant migration corridor.

Together with James Taki and Mark Soit, they are working to allow the jumbos passage again after leasing their land to Pardamat Conservancy.

“We decided to bring this down so that elephants do not have to walk long distances because their route has been closed yet these animals belong to us,” says Miyian.

One of the reasons why the concept has gained momentum among the locals is due to involvement of the local community and the compensation system that has been initiated by the conservancies which is faster and more efficient than the one offered by government.

Wilham Kipetu, a conservancy manager explains that compensation takes about three months and it is one of the ways to mitigate conflicts between people and animals.

The initiative is a joint partnership between landowners and partners on a 60/40 per cent basis.

“We construct pens for the community for them to keep their livestock but in the case of wildlife attacks, there is a procedure that we follow before compensation can be done,” says Kipetu of the fund which has paid Sh7.5 million in compensation since it was set up in 2010.

When an attack occurs, verification officers visit the location and submit a report which a committee sits to verify.

If confirmed, the money is paid directly to the affected person’s account.


Related Topics

Masai mara