Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy

Published November 2018

Community guards standing in front of community.

Community guards. Credit: Calvin Cottar

Elephants, big cats and Maasai giraffe are among the species to benefit from the Olderkesi community conservancy initiative. The conservancy scheme is based on giving the local community financial incentive - lease payments - to ensure wildlife protection within the conservancy area, by preventing poaching and stopping the fragmentation of land for farming.

The conservancy is managed by two trusts: Cottar’s Wildlife Conservancy Trust (CWCT) and Olderkesi Wildlife Community Trust (OCWCT). These two groups have worked closely together over the past 20 years to create a vital, truly sustainable conservancy management plan. 

 

Lead

Location

Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy is an important corridor between the Loita/Ngurman hills and the Maasai Mara National Reserve for 3,000 + elephant and thousands of other transient plains herbivores, such as wildebeest, zebra, eland and gazelles. The land also supports a permanent population of around 110 Maasai giraffe.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected African Elephant Loxodonta africana , Leopard Panthera pardus , Lion Panthera leo , Maasai Giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi

Products in trade

Ivory, lion bone

Overview of the problem

All wildlife in Olderkesi is threatened by poaching and land use change. Most poaching in the area is to supply the local market with meat protein, and the Maasai giraffe suffers particularly from this illegal trade. Local market values of all animals poached for bushmeat is thought to be around US$110,000 (KES10 million) a year. Those who kill for bushmeat are local, including members of the Maasai landowning community. However, the same poachers may also kill elephant for ivory if they get a chance, using poisoned spears and arrows. In addition, a small group of specialists operate in organised gangs.

The anti-IWT initiative

After more than a decade dedicated to resolving cultural and political resistance, the Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) is now implementing a programme which pays Maasai community landowners of Olderkesi for the lease of 7,000 acres for a designated conservancy. The scheme is based on lease payments that are competitive with alternative land use, such as agriculture and domestic livestock grazing. During the first five years these payments will finance community projects – including schools, bursaries, a centre for girls and medical support. The money is paid via a direct payment scheme which is not susceptible to corruption.

The conservancy scheme is based on giving the local community financial incentive to ensure wildlife protection within the conservancy area, by preventing poaching and stopping the fragmentation of land for farming. The deal was struck after more than ten years of painstaking negotiations with the Olderkesi Maasai community; 3,400 registered members collectively own an area of 106,000 acres, and make up one third of the population living on the land. They stand to gain from community development and infrastructure, and a steady income stream, paid for by the lease fees. The key to success was persuading the whole community to agree that a single land unit of 7,000 acres should be managed as a wildlife conservancy, as opposed to being subdivided into small plots for farming and livestock.

Winning over all the members has needed hundreds of community meetings and dozens of field trips over many years. Maasai leaders influence opinions, but do not make decisions for the community. Even minimal level opposition to a proposed project can considerably delay its implementation. On community land, just 1 per cent of the members can block a plan. At Olderkesi, even when 98 per cent of the community were in favour of full implementation, it took more years of negotiating to win over minority resistance.

Since that has been achieved, CWCT, as lessee, applies control of land use and pays the Maasai elders (the lessors) who act on behalf of all the community members. If payments are reduced, due to infringements, it is up to the elders to police and fine culprits (who are usually members of their community or local area). CWCT raises money to cover the conservancy lease, management and operations by charging entry fees to tourism partners and from benefactors. The conservancy has a team of locally sourced scouts, runs a small undercover unit, and liaises with rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Mara Elephant Project when evidence of poaching is found. The Maasai community supports these operations, which help ensure they get their full lease payments. This amounts to US$10,000 (KES 1 million) per month for the Olderkesi community members, and there are additional rewards for information that leads to the capture of poachers, guns and ivory stocks. The terms of the agreement mean that families and their livestock living within the area are being moved out by June 2015, and this relocation is currently underway. However, the scheme includes provision for controlled livestock grazing during the wet season when tourism is low.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in money community scouts
Performance-based payments/incentives for patrolling or guarding
Strengthening and supporting traditional norms and sanctions against IWT
Further detail

The conservancy has a team of locally sourced scouts, runs a small undercover unit, and liaises with rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Mara Elephant Project when evidence of poaching is found.

There are additional rewards for information that leads to the capture of poachers, guns and ivory stocks.

If payments are reduced, due to infringements (e.g. poaching), it is up to the elders to police and fine culprits (who are usually members of their community or local area).

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Lease payments
Further detail

The owners of the land - the Maasai - are paid approximately US $10,000/month for the lease of 7,000 acres for a designated conservancy.

The scheme is based on lease payments that are competitive with alternative land use, such as agriculture and domestic livestock grazing.

Rent payments go to the entire community, not just a few leaders in the group- everyone gets an equal share.

Infringements of the agreed land use – e.g. poaching – triggers deductions in lease payments to the Maasai community leaders, who are then responsible for making up the deficit. This aspect of the agreement promotes a collective liability which is a powerful mechanism to enforce land use for wildlife.

Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

Provision of community-level benefits
Further detail

During the first five years the lease payments financed community projects – including schools, bursaries, a centre for girls and medical support.

Has the initiative made a difference?

Positive early indicators include a rise in the game count in the conservancy area, and the halting of fragmentation, fencing and farming. For now, lease payments are high enough to be competitive and the community see themselves as partners in conservation rather than being victims of government-enforced wildlife protection. New methods of making these payments, designed to guard against corruption, have been put in place – in spite of resistance from the Maasai elders some of whom would like the land fully available, years round, for their cattle (90 per cent of cattle in Maasailand is owned by the 10 per cent of the elders). Long term success will depend on whether the community decides that land for wildlife is economically worthwhile over time, and whether the rewards are worth the risks of protection. Kenya’s recent crackdown on wildlife crimes has dramatically raised fines and penalties and increased the rewards for informers. At the same time, ivory poachers have become more ruthless and violent; where they were once welcomed in villages, their tactics are now turning villages against them. The general climate of better security works in the conservancy’s favour, but it remains vulnerable to other external factors: if prices for wheat and maize rise, the returns from wildlife protection may not be enough.

What works and why

  • There is no quick fix to setting up a community conservancy; 100 per cent buy-in is key to success, especially in pastoral communities, and this takes time.
  • Collective decision-making process means that results are likely to be more lasting than deals struck with individual landowners

What doesn’t work and why

Challenges include:

  • Short term political interests inherent in Maasai culture, and the nature of decision-making on community land.
  • The polarised nature of the Maasai community in Olderkesi, which comprises a small minority of very rich cattle owners and the vast majority living in poverty.
  • The legacy of Kenya’s historical heavy-handed approach towards local people in the name of wildlife conservation.

Organisers, donors and partners

For further information contact People Not Poaching coordinator (peoplenotpoaching@gmail.com).