Development of a Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team to Protect African Elephants in Northern Kenya
The majority of Kenya’s wildlife exists outside of the network of government-protected parks and reserves. Community conservancies, under the umbrella of Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), in the Ewaso ecosystem cover an estimated 3 million acres (12,000 km2), compared with only 53,000 ha (535 km2) of formally protected government national reserves (Samburu, Buffalo Spirngs and Shaba National Reserves). These community conservancies lie within 4 districts of northern Kenya (Laikipia, Samburu, Marsabit and Isiolo) and form a large part of what is recognized as the Ewaso ecosystem or landscape, one of the most important wildlife areas remaining in the country.
The Samburu/Laikipia elephant population, which inhabits the Ewaso ecosystem, is the largest population of elephants in Kenya living primarily outside the network of government-protected areas. The last total count by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was in 2008 as part of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program. The survey estimated a minimum of 7,468 elephants in the Samburu/Laikipia region, representing a 5% increase on the last survey conducted in 2002. Data from aerial surveys, tracking of collared elephants by Save the Elephants, and wildlife monitoring collected by conservancy scouts shows that the NRT conservancies provide an important role in increasing range for elephants in this region.
Poaching threat has significantly increased in northern Kenya over the past two years, however, within the network of community conservancies the proportion of illegally killed elephants in 2010 was held relatively constant at approximately 30%; whereas outside the network of conservancies the proportion of illegal killing was almost 90%. The increased threat to elephants outside the areas frequently patrolled by conservancy rangers is evident, thus the need for an effective and highly mobile antipoaching team to work in areas not covered by the conservancies. In 2010, the International Elephant Foundation awarded NRT with a grant of USD 20,000 to help fund a new Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team; a specialized, mobile, rapid-response team made up of rangers from the NRT conservancies. The NRT joint antipoaching team has been operating predominantly in the remote areas that are not easily reached by conservancies and in parts of the landscape which are subject to high levels of civil insecurity. The joint anti-poaching team has been instrumental in uncovering and addressing poaching as it occurs, in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service and community conservancies.