Wildlife conservancies in Kenya become innovative to remain afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic

By Carolyne Tomno

Nicole Lengima is an assistant manager at the Saruni lodge in Samburu. With the tourism sector in Kenya hard hit by the Covid -19 Pandemic she is still lucky to have a job. She has seen Tourism numbers drastically drop to zero as a result of the effects of the Covid 19.

As a result, many of the workers at the Lodge have been laid off. And as a member of the local community she has seen many people suffer. Nicole who started off with a cleaning job at the lodge, rose through the ranks to become a manager. She says Tourism is the main source of income for the communities around the conservancy.

Before the pandemic Saruni lodge at the heart of the expansive kalama conservancy in Samburu was a hive of activity receiving hundreds of tourists. Nicole says many community members in the conservancy have lost their means of livelihood.

Some of the hardest hit are the women who sold their beadwork to tourists. The lodge which mainly depended on international tourists is now offering incentives to woo both and International tourists. Nicole says the lodge has been reopened under strict ministry of health guidelines. “We have taken back 19 of our employees and we are now ready for the tourists”, Nicole says.

The women from nearby villages used to make money from beadwork which they sold to the tourists for a profit. “To Limit the number of people at the lodge we will sell the beads on behalf of the women at the Lodge “, says Nicole. She adds that the money will be given back to the women.

The warriors who used to entertain the guests suffered the same fate and now have Zero income

Threats of Poaching

Namunyak is the oldest community conservancy in Kenya. Tom Letiwa who is a manager at the conservancy, says that communities that depended on revenue generated by conservancies through wildlife are facing a bleak future. “My concern is that some of the people might start poaching wildlife for food”, says Letiwa. He adds that poaching of animals like Giraffe has been witnessed in the conservancy during the Covid 19 Period.” This is done mainly for game meat”, adds Letiwa.

The Northern range land trust is also offering incentives to communities to help them co- exist peacefully with the Wildlife. Letiwa says they use Revenue from tourism to Offer education bursaries as an incentive to the community. “We have turned to fundraising activities to replace lost tourism funds” says Letiwa.

He adds that they are also encouraging communities use culture to earn money. The Namunyak wildlife conservancy which covers 324,000 Hectares

Community Initiatives

Tom Lolosoli, the manager at Kalama community conservancy says economic empowerment of community members was key in conservation. “We are working to improve the livelihoods of the local community by training women and Morans on enterpreneual skills “says Lolosoli. He adds that they take community elders, Morans and women for exposure tours.

Lolosoli says community members have visited Baringo County, to benchmark on rangelands management in order to acquire knowledge on community managed grass banks. “This has been transformative as our communities are now planning to engage in grass ventures”, says Lolosoli. He adds that this is expected to build sustainable economies that are linked to conservation.

Wildlife Conservation

Daniel Letoiye, the Sustainability director at the Northern Rangelands trust says cases of poaching of the Critically Endangered wildlife like Hirola and Grevy Zebra had gone down drastically before the Pandemic. Numbers had increased by 160 Percent. This accounts for 20-25 percent of the global population.

Tourism figures had also gone up creating job opportunities for community members and enabling them to have had a good source of income. According to Letoiye people need to reap economic benefit from wildlife, otherwise they will be forced to kill the animals.

Letoiye says he would like to see more involvement of communities and diversification of revenue streams to enable communities to survive harsh economic times brought about by unpredicted events like the Covid-19 Pandemic. He adds that communities should also plan how to use land for their own benefit.

Conservancies are regarded as local institutions that provide solutions to local problems hence building community resilience. The conservancies are already changing the Landscape in Northern Kenya.