Africa’s elephants and black rhinos—already at risk—are increasingly threatened as the price of black market ivory rises
, global markets contract, and unemployment rates rise. To fight poaching of these tusked animals, Ian Craig, founder of the Lewa Conservancy
in Kenya and the brains behind the Northern Rangelands Trust
, takes a unique approach to conservation that involves both local community members and high-level government officials, as well as private and public sector investors.
In the 1970s the black rhino population was at about 20,000. Less than three decades later, it had fallen to 200. Today, the population is about 600, of which 79 live in the Lewa Conservancy. The vast regions of Kenya covered by the Northern Rangelands Trust and the Lewa Conservancy are difficult to govern, so the conservancies partner with local communities to ensure the security necessary to protect the animals from poachers. By investing in community institutions, the conservancies create long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency.
But why should local communities—often beset by poverty, disease, and hunger—care about saving elephants or rhinoceroses rather than killing them for their tusks or meat? Revenue from tourism can total hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially because of the high cost and exclusive nature of tourism facilities in the area. This money is then injected back into community programs to improve adult literacy, school nutrition, health care, micro-credit, water and irrigation systems, community livestock and agriculture, and forestry and aquaculture.
In some politically volatile areas, the conservancy serves not only as a platform for ecological security, but also as a mediator of disputes. Where livestock theft is rampant, multi-ethnic anti-poaching teams have been able to act as intermediaries. Community elders and other traditional leaders serving on the conservancies’ boards have bi-annual meetings to further intra- and inter-regional cooperation. Along with regular managerial and council meetings, the board meetings set standards for good practices, open dialogue for policymaking and cooperation, and act as a unique platform for communication between different ethnic and regional groups.
Community members understand they have a stake in protecting not only the animals, but in ensuring security and building trust within the country. With its unique combination of local-level engagement, the cooperation and support of the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the national government, and with the resources available to the conservancies as a group, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy hopes to create a model of conservation that can be used across Africa and in other at-risk regions.
The future is shaky: ivory prices continue to rise, the migration of animals has facilitated poaching, and small arms are abundantly available. However, the new community-focused approach has helped to create positive attitudes that aren’t just about saving animals, but about developing the nation.
Justine Lindemann is program assistant with the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Photo: Elephants in Lewa Conservancy area, courtesty Flickr user Mara 1