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Involving local communities to protect wildlife in the Horn of Africa

14 December 2017

Last month, a delegation from the Netherlands Embassy in Ethiopia and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited IUCN NL partner organizations in Kenya to discuss activities and challenges in preventing and combating wildlife crime in the Horn of Africa. Both South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) and IFAW Kenya stressed the importance of involvement of local communities.

The Horn of Africa is emerging as a major region of wildlife crime worldwide, as both source and transit route for illicit wildlife products (such as ivory, rhino horn, skins of wild animals) and live animals. Together with partner organizations South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO), the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HoA-REC&N) and IFAW, IUCN NL intervenes at different levels and stages in the wildlife crime chain in the Horn of Africa. SORALO and IFAW introduced the delegation to their daily work. Meanwhile, they highlighted achievements and discussed challenges.

Poaching, land fragmentation and human-wildlife conflict

“Important African wildlife is under threat,” says John Kamanga, director of SORALO. “Poaching is not the only problem, land fragmentation and increased human-wildlife conflict also pose major threats.” The Kenyan South Rift is located near the border with Tanzania, between Amboseli National Park and the Masai Mara Reserve. The area (about the size of Belgium) is composed of 16 group ranches with different states of land ownership. “A part of these ranches is still intact,” says Kamanga. “But large parts are being subdivided. People place fences, which results in blocking wildlife routes and increased human-wildlife conflict. This in turn leads to lower tolerance for wildlife, which creates room for poachers.”

This pressure for land is partly government-driven. “Performance of land management committees is measured by number of parcels. This has resulted in widespread land subdivision,” Kamanga explains. When group ranches are in transition to subdivided land, SORALO steps in. “We ask them to think through the process and make informed decisions. If they want to subdivide, it’s important to first make a land use plan,” says Kamanga.

Eyes and ears on the ground

To prevent human-wildlife conflict and to avoid poaching incidents, SORALO works with a network of community scouts. They monitor the wildlife and inform communities. “This way we can avoid that herders or kids going to school encounter a lion or calving elephant,” Kamanga explains.

Head scout Marian tells the delegation about her work: “My scouts are all Masai warriors, they know the area. But the landscape is big and we are few.” A network of 43 scouts covers an area of about 10.000 km2. They collect data, communicate from one station to another, mobilize communities and are the eyes and ears on the ground for the Kenya Wildlife Service. When asked if her job is dangerous, Marian states: “Poachers are well-equipped, we are not armed.” In collaboration with IFAW, SORALO provides continued training to the community scouts. “Poachers try to outsmart you every day. We need to be smarter than them, otherwise we continue to lose our wildlife.”

Outsmarting poachers

To counter poaching and predict attacks before wildlife is killed, IFAW applies the same techniques that are used by intelligence units for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. “Information coming from local communities and community wildlife scouts is vital while building predictive models,” says Faye Cuevas from IFAW Kenya. “We train scouts to use the same reporting techniques so the information can be rapidly communicated and aggregated within our tenBoma information system." The compiling of information and intelligence reporting has resulted in effective countermeasures. The pilot in the Tsavo Conservation area and the Galana Ranches brought poaching numbers down by 98% in 2016, with only one elephant killed. In addition, IFAW is supporting the establishment of vital elephant corridors.

International commitment

“Besides involvement of local communities, transboundary cooperation is needed to address wildlife crime,” says Henk Simons, Senior Expert Nature Conservation at IUCN NL. “I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to share our experience in Kenya with Ambassador Bengt van Loosdrecht and his colleague from the Dutch Embassy in Ethiopia.” The ambassador appreciated the efforts of the program, stating: “You set an inspiring example for other countries.” He also stressed the need for a strong international and national political commitment to address wildlife crime.

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