Development of a Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team to Protect African Elephants in Northern Kenya

Report to the International Elephant Foundation

March 2011

Dr Juliet King
Research & Monitoring Coordinator
Northern Rangelands Trust
[email protected]


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 anti-poaching 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.

Both IEF and the US Fish & Wildlife Service have committed to continuing support to this team on an annual basis. This report provides an update on progress and activities by the Joint Conservancy Anti – Poaching Team during 2010.


The goal of this project is to enhance protection of wildlife, particularly elephants, in northern Kenya through the development of a Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team.

Specific project objectives to achieve this goal include:

  • To establish a skilled Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team which will be available to quickly respond to threats and incidents of poaching in NRT communities and Conservancies;
  • To provide essential equipment such as an airplane, vehicle, radios and field equipment needed for the Team to carry out its duties;
  • To construct a base of operations for the Team, including an office/radio room, store room and accommodation;
  • To provide operating costs for the Team as it becomes activated and functions in its first three years; and,
  • To monitor the impact of the Team on the level and threats of poaching using the standardized community-based ecological monitoring model (Conservancy Management Monitoring System – CoMMS).


Members of the NRT Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching team

The Joint Anti-Poaching Team consists of 11 community rangers from four different conservancies (Namunyak, Sera, Melako and Biliqo-Bulesa) representing three different ethnic groups (Samburu, Rendille and Borana) that neighbor each other in Samburu, Isiolo and Marsabit districts. The team is supported by a driver recruited by NRT and for the period of this report a team leader was seconded from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The role of the team leader from LWC is to provide professional leadership and ethnic ‘neutrality’ which in the early stages of the formation of this team is extremely important, to ensure support to the team from all communities.

Since the formation of the team in early 2009, NRT has procured a vehicle; radio communications equipment; GPS units; field equipment including tents, sleeping bags, rucksacks, binoculars and uniforms. NRT has also recruited and trained a pilot from within the NRT communities and purchased a Piper Super-cub to support anti-poaching and wildlife surveillance activities. The team is for the most part entirely mobile with no fixed base for operations. Its operations are determined by elephant movements and known concentrations as well as in response to poaching outbreaks, insecurity and intelligence information.

The Joint Anti-poaching team has concentrated its operations during the reporting period predominantly in Samburu East, western parts of Isiolo and southern parts of Marsabit districts as well as the Mathew’s range. These areas include the conservancies of Sera, Melako, Biliqo-Bulesa and Namunyak however due to the mobile nature of the team it was able to access areas not regularly patrolled by conservancy rangers. The team has focused its activities in areas with known elephant concentrations, using information provided by conservancy rangers, aerial recces and GPS collared elephants through Save the Elephants. During all poaching follow-up and security operations the team has worked closely with Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and the conservancy management and elders. The NRT pilot provided aerial support to the team in follow up operations, however, in March 2010 following a minor crash the aircraft was grounded for six months. Aerial support was therefore sporadic in 2010 and provided on occasion by Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the NRT Chief Executive Officer.

The team has not only been active in creating a presence and deterrent to poaching in areas not frequented by conservancy rangers, but has also contributed to civil security by recovering stolen livestock, arresting persons involved in road banditry and theft, and through the community network were able to identify those involved in insecurity and forward names to the Kenya Police and Administration. The team has been engaged in several contacts with poachers and bandits throughout the course of the year. Through the teams links with the community it has relied strongly on intelligence information with regards to ivory trafficking and poaching, which has led to the recovery ivory and forward names of dealers to KWS. The team has not been involved in any prosecutions of bandits, poachers or ivory dealers; this has been handled by KWS in an effort not to undermine the anti-poaching teams close connections with the community and flow of intelligence information.

Elders address a gathering of warriors (morans) following game-meat poaching incidents highlighted by the joint anti-poaching team.

During the course of 2010, it became apparent that game-meat poaching of species such as giraffe and gerenuk was ongoing. The team was able to hold several community meetings and together with elders address this issue. The poaching was predominantly being carried out by Samburu warriors (morans) and often when the warriors were planning livestock raids of their neighbours. The role of the team has been to uncover and highlight these issues and to use the elected conservancy Boards and elders to address warriors.

Statistics of security and anti-poaching operations carried out by the joint anti-poaching team in 2010:

Details of team´s activities Number
Number of illegal firearms recovered 6
Number of poaching follow-up with community 2
Number of poached carcasses reported Elephant: 10, Giraffe: 3, Gerenuk: 5
Number of security operations successfully recovering stolen livestock 4
Number of contacts with bandits/poachers 7
Number of suspects arrested/names handed over to police 25*

*(excluding 13 illegal immigrants from Ethiopia who were intercepted and handed over to Police; 4 Somali trainees were intercepted and handed over to Police)

KWS and NRT anti-poaching team with illegal firearm recovered from poachers; items recovered from bandits that had stolen livestock

All members of the joint Anti-poaching team underwent a 2 month training course at the Kenya Wildlife Service Field Training School, Manyani from mid September to mid November 2010. The course was funded by USF&WS and USAID-Kenya. Seventy four conservancy rangers also underwent the training. The training covered aspects such as drill, discipline, field craft, patrols, use of GPS, conservation, wildlife law and enforcement and basic first aid. The training instilled great pride among the participants and a realization of the need for high standards of discipline, command among uniformed conservancy officers. It also increased the recognition and endorsement of the role of conservancy rangers and the NRT Anti-poaching team within KWS and has served to strengthen collaboration between these organizations. The team’s Sergeant also underwent a one-month training at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy held by Ex-British Army trainers.

In late December 2010 the NRT anti-poaching team was deployed to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to assist with rhino protection following a series of rhino poaching incidents and reports of poachers in the area.

The team has continued to provide data on illegal activities and wildlife mortality in the standardized format using the Conservancy Management Monitoring System (CoMMS) throughout the year. Data on elephant mortality has been integrated with NRT and KWS data for the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephant (MIKE) programme in the Samburu-Laikipia site.


NRT has been strongly engaged in providing information on elephant mortality to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem (a CITES Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants, MIKE site). NRT provides all records of elephant mortality gathered by Conservancy scouts through NRT’s Conservancy Management Monitoring System (CoMMS); this data is harmonized with KWS records and compiled together with that from other stakeholders to provide a reliable record of elephant mortality across the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on ensuring conservancies are collecting accurate and standardised data for KWS and MIKE, including GPS locations for all carcasses, and accurate and timely reporting of information to KWS field stations via the radio network. This system of elephant mortality recording and reporting is now streamlined and during 2010 there were minimal discrepancies between NRT and KWS data.

Sixty six elephant carcasses were reported by Conservancy scouts within or adjacent to the community conservancies. These included two poached elephant carcasses reported just south of Ishaqbini conservancy in Ijara district of north-eastern Kenya. The remaining carcasses were from within the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem. Additionally, five carcasses were reported by other sources in the vicinity of Mt Kenya and three on the southern slopes of Marsabit; six of these were as a result of poaching and the other two conflict and unknown causes. The following analysis focuses only on carcasses reported by NRT conservancy scouts within the Samburu- Laikipia ecosystem.

Ten conservancies within the Samburu/Laikipia elephant range reported elephant carcasses within their areas during 2010. Other carcasses were reported outside the conservancies’ boundaries where scouts conduct only occasional patrols, these carcasses were found either through following up reports from community members or during scout patrols into outlying areas. No elephant carcasses were reported within the boundaries of Melako or Ltungai conservancies; however they were reported in neighbouring areas and followed up by scouts. In 2010, Ltungai scouts expanded their area of coverage to include Kirisia forest, in support of KWS. As Figure 2 shows, the majority of carcasses were reported outside the conservancy areas, with higher mortality also reported in Namunyak which has a large population of elephants resident throughout the year.

There was a significant increase in reported elephant poaching in the Samburu/Laikipia ecosystem in 2010; 55% of all carcasses reported by NRT Conservancies were as a result of illegal killing (36 elephants), both poaching and a relatively small amount of conflict. This increased poaching threat is being experienced across Kenya and other parts of East Africa and is a very worrying trend. Of note, however, is the fact that within the Community Conservancies the level of poaching remained relatively low (31% of all reported carcasses inside conservancies were the result of illegal killing including poaching and conflict), whereas outside the conservancies poaching was high (89% of all reported carcasses outside conservancies were as a result of illegal killing) (Figures 3 & 4) . The level of illegal killing within conservancies was similar to 2009 (29%) showing that conservancies are being effective at containing the poaching threat to a large extent.

Poached elephant found by anti-poaching team in Kom area, names of suspected poachers passed on to KWS

It is evident that poachers took advantage of areas where conservancy scouts do not regularly patrol, and this is where the majority of poaching took place (see map of elephant mortality reported by NRT conservancies). Poaching hotspots in 2010 were different to 2009, except for Mukugodo forest in Laikipia which continues to remain a poaching hotspot in the region. Poaching hotspots in 2010 also included parts of Isiolo District including Biliqo-Bulesa conservancy and the newly emerging Leparua conservancy on the northern boundary of Lewa; the formation of this community conservancy, which is still in its infancy, is likely to assist in curbing poaching in this area. Poaching broke out in south-eastern Samburu East district to the south of Sera and east of Kalama, an area not routinely patrolled by conservancy scouts, in November/December 2010 during which 13 elephants were poached over a 4-week period. This coincided with a large contingent of conservancy scouts being away on training and leave. However, once information on this poaching was received NRT’s joint anti-poaching team together with Conservancy Scouts and KWS rangers were able to respond. Despite the relative success of conservancies in containing poaching in their areas during 2010, the threat of elephant poaching remains high in all areas.


NRT is committed to continuing support to the joint conservancy anti-poaching team. The effectiveness of having a multi-ethnic, mobile rapid response team has been proven over the past year and particularly in the face of increased poaching threat being experienced across the landscape. NRT is building the capacity of the rangers in the team through training and experience in both NRT areas and other wildlife conservancies (such as Lewa) and through working alongside KWS and LWC teams. The team-leader has been selected and will undergo further supervisors training at KWS in 2011 with a view to taking over this role from Lewa. The NRT pilot will continue to support activities of the anti-poaching team through reconnaissance flights and aerial support during follow-up operations. NRT is in the process of recruiting a ‘Security Liaison Officer’ who will be a senior officer based at NRT headquarters and will provide direct oversight of the joint anti-poaching team activities as well as support and oversight of conservancy security teams. The Security Laision Officer will also work closely with KWS and other government security agencies. Funds for the operations of this team for 2011 have been secured as a follow-on to this grant and similarly as a follow-on grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.