SIVASISH THAKUR MAASAI MARA (KENYA), Aug 25 - With wildlife habitat undergoing shrinkage and fragmentation due to expansion of settlement, cropland and roads, many conservationists believe that a community-centric conservation management approach for wildlife habitat can yield positive and lasting results.
Cheetahs in Maasai Mara. Photo: Sivasish Thakur
Across Africa, wildlife conservancies that comprise community- and privately-owned lands that are set aside for conservation are not just providing shelter and safeguards to wildlife but are also securing benefits for the tribal landowners. Most of the conservancies are located adjacent to national parks and national reserves, forming a contiguous and larger natural wildlife habitat – so essential for wildlife to disperse and thrive.
“The concept of conservancy has taken roots, with their number increasing. This is a win-win situation for both wildlife and local communities who jointly manage the habitat with the private owners. Conservancies ensure an extended range for wildlife with proper protection measures while benefitting local communities in matters of livelihood,” Pamela Wanjugu, a Nairobi-based eco-tourism consultant told The Assam Tribune.
As conservancies allow limited tourist footfall and are generally highly-priced, the disturbance caused to the animals is much less and the wildlife sighting experience better than in national parks.
Even concentration of many animals is larger in some conservancies due to less human disturbance and better management practices.
“The concentration of lions in the Maasai Mara is highest in the 202-sq km Mara Naboisho conservancy – a critical corridor of the Mara ecosystem – which also exemplifies tourism benefitting communities. It comprises land leased from 500 Maasai landowners and a share of the conservancy revenue goes to the local community,” Alphons, manager of Eagle View Camp in Naboisho said.
He added that the multifarious needs of local communities such as education and healthcare were also looked after by the conservancy owners.
According to official data, in Kenya, conservancies created by ranchers and local communities now cover over six million hectares – about 11 per cent of the country’s surface and even more than the total land area contained in Kenya’s national parks. These conservancies help communities protect and manage their lands and generate opportunities from the country’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry. For example, in the Maasai Mara, conservancies now cover an area almost equal to the national reserve, and deliver about 3.7 million US dollars in annual lease payment to thousands of local landowners.
In northern Kenya, recent aerial surveys recorded a 12 per cent increase in the country’s second-largest elephant population between 2012 and 2017 – attributed in part to the proliferation of conservancies in that part of the country. In the Maasai Mara, lions are now found at higher densities on some of these private conservancies than in the adjacent national reserve. Private and community conservancies contain nearly all the key habitat of Grevy’s zebra and the Hirola antelope, two of East Africa’s most endangered large mammals.
Those opposed to the conservancies, however, equate them with large-scale land grabbing from pastoralist communities by wealthy foreigners with local connections. They argue that by prioritizing wildlife concerns over the welfare of humans and livestock, the conservancies are inimical to community welfare. Critics also allege lack of transparency and adequate information about the manner in which new conservancies are established in Kenya.
But according to the proponents, the conservancy approach is the best way to meet the long-term goals of conservation and benefit local communities living near forests.