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Il Ngwesi Group Ranch


African elephant, Kenya. 

African elephant, Kenya. 

A Maasai group in Laikipia, Kenya, established a community-conservation area that balances the needs of local pastoralists with wildlife and operates an eco-lodge. The ranch is owned and managed by the local population of almost 7,000 Laikipiak Maasai pastoralists and has played a key role in a network of connected wildlife protected areas and corridors. The work at Il Ngwesi has focused on ensuring both the ecological integrity of the area as well as delivering tangible economic and social benefits to its Maasai members.


Maasai group


Il Ngwesi Group Ranch is located in Mukogodo Division, Laikipia District and consists of 8,645 ha of community managed land. It sits next to the Ngare Ndare River and is predominantly semi-arid and arid savannah land.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected African Elephant Loxodonta africana

Overview of the problem

Following the end of commercial hunting in the area in the 1970s, local people began to poach wildlife and by the late 1980s elephant populations were significantly reduced and rhinos had disappeared. The ecosystem was simultaneously under threat from deforestation for timber, fuel wood and agriculture, leading to increased local tensions between pastoralists and farmers. Over-reliance on livestock, the decline of traditional grazing management systems and increasing incidents of human-wildlife conflict meant that the Maasai’s livelihoods were under threat.

The anti-IWT initiative

Increasing threats to the Maasai livelihoods and poverty in the area meant the security of Lewa Downs, a privately-owned conservancy nearby was at risk. In response, the management team at Lewa, supported by the Kenya Wildlife Service, encouraged the formation of a community conservation area within Il Ngwesi and the creation of an eco-lodge to generate revenue. Maasai elders and community leaders were engaged in the process and local people were trained as rangers, and the ranch was established in 1995.

The purpose of the eco-lodge, which opened in 1996, is to encourage sustainable land management and therefore conserve the area’s flagship wildlife species. The lodge stimulated the development of further conservation-based enterprises, including cultural bomas and community-run camp sites. Revenues generated by initiatives are reinvested into infrastructure projects, for example water projects, schools, educational scholarships and health outreach services.

To protect the ranch by-laws were established outlawing tree-felling, poaching or killing of animals and starting of fires in the conservation area. Il Ngwesi is not fenced, so security personnel are employed and trained by the government’s reserve police force.

Inclusion of gender, age and ethnic groups

Women are supported to enhance their skills through beadmaking, and training in leadership and governance. Girls are targeted for the education scheme to reduce the rate of early marriage.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in money community scouts
Further detail

Local people trained and employed as rangers.

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Further detail

40% of the net profit from the eco-lodge is reinvested in community development

Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

(Non-wildlife-based) enterprise development/support
Provision of community-level benefits
Further detail

Alternative livelihood activities have been encouraged to decrease reliance on livestock and increase household incomes. Infrastructural projects, alongside health and education programs, have improved the wellbeing of the group ranch’s communities.

Income generation has been initiated through the development of artisanal handicraft-making by a women’s group and the ranch has also explored the possibility of purchasing and marketing locally-produced honey for tourists.

In collaboration with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a four-year programme targeting women’s groups in craft making has been initiated.

With support from Kansas City Zoo, Reid Park Zoo and the Northern Rangelands Trust, the Ngare Ndare water pipeline was repaired in 2008 after being damaged two years earlier. This ensured a water supply for the lodge and for livestock, and the system was extended to schools and communities. Communities also benefitted from the Sang’a water project, which put in place seven water systems, carrying water from river sources to villages.

An amount is allocated annually for an educational bursaries scheme, where community youth members are funded to attend secondary school and universities.

Has the initiative made a difference?

Conservation has been strengthened in the area, in part due to wider efforts from partners in the Laikipia District. A milestone was achieved in 2002 when an orphaned black rhino was relocated to Il Ngwesi along with two adult white rhinos. Other species are increasing, such as elephants, giraffes, zebras and warthogs, reflecting improvements to ecosystem quality. Species are counted by Il Ngwesi rangers who assist in monitoring efforts.

Ecotourism is the main source of funding for community projects, with 40% of net profit reinvested in community development. Ecotourism has also created jobs for local people, either working at the lodge or as rangers. Income generation has also supported the creation of women’s groups who make and sell handicrafts. The women are trained in quality beadwork skills, as well as in business and leadership skills.

 Il Ngwesi has also increased income through improved land management, which has helped communities to mitigate losses from drought. For example, during the 2008-2009 drought, communities bordering Il Ngwesi lost only 40% of their cattle, compared to 90% in other parts of Kenya.

A portion of money is set aside every year for an educational bursaries scheme, where youth are funded to attend secondary school and university. The scheme particularly targets girls. Infrastructure, such as teachers housing, has also benefitted local primary schools.

Water systems and a health centre have been built, and communities have access to a mobile health clinic. HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns have reached over 20,000 people and includes counselling and testing.

What works and why

Community participation is fundamental to its long-term sustainability and many of the early successes were based on the communities benefitting from a diversified income source. By giving the group ranch inhabitants a voice and a vote, the initiative ensured a strong degree of local ownership and tangible socioeconomic impacts also gained the support of the community.

International partners have also contributed in the form of technical assistance, for instance in Il Ngwesi’s health and enterprise development schemes.

Factors for success

Long-term donor support that is flexible, adaptive and/or based on realistic time goals

Effective and accountable community-based natural resources management institutions

Clear and tangible benefits to local communities from wildlife (These may be financial and/or non-financial)

What doesn’t work and why

Although a black rhino arrived in 2002, the ranch was not awarded a second rhino, causing frustration on the part of Il Ngwesi’s wardens, with bureaucracy and policy changes cited as a reason.

Community support is not assured, with population growth and unpredictable weather patterns increasing tensions over land use for wildlife conservation versus livestock grazing.

Factors that limited or hindered success

Lack of coordinated and coherent sectoral policies/legislation (For example, land use planning, agricultural etc...)

Lack of clearly defined tenure or resource use rights

Organisers, donors and partners

Lewa Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service

For further information contact (