How Community-Owned Tourist Facilities Contribute To Conservation In Kenya
Kenya is blessed with great biodiversity represented by its extra-ordinary variety of animals, plants and ecosystems ranging from reefs to moorlands and from desert to forests. Human/wildlife conflicts have existed since time immemorial as people and wildlife compete for land and marine resources and clashing land uses as two thirds of Kenyan wildlife lives outside protected areas.
In Kenya, the history of conservation dates back to 1898, when the first legislation on wildlife was enacted primarily to control and regulate hunting of the big game. Sport hunting featuring the big five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard) was attracting many overseas hunters who needed control and regulation. Following this, in 1907, a game department was established to manage and control hunting throughout the country. However, money paid to the government, as hunting fees did not directly benefit the communities/ landowners who bore the cost of living with the wildlife and therefore did not contribute to reducing human/wildlife conflict.
An attempt to address the human/wildlife conflict was made in 1946 with the establishment of Kenya’s first National Park, Nairobi National Park, as a protected area under a board of trustees. It was established for public recreation and as a national heritage, but hunting was not allowed inside. This changed the conservation scenario with conservationists advocating for the creation of more National Parks and Reserves. Their efforts saw the establishment of Tsavo National Park in 1948 and Aberdare National Park in 1950. Even then little was done to reduce human/wildlife conflict. Currently, 6% of Kenya’s total area is dotted with 26 National Parks and 29 Reserves across the country, under the management of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the County Governments respectively.
The establishment of these protected areas was done without the consultation, participation and the support of the local communities who have continued to live in both the wildlife dispersal areas and the migratory corridors of wildlife. These areas have, to date, remained wildlife/ human conflict cells. In recognition of the need to address this issue, Kenya Government under the auspices of United Nations Environment Program, recommended a set of policy guidelines for participation of local communities, in the sustainable utilization of wildlife resources. The recommendations were based on the fact that two thirds of Kenyan wildlife lives outside (game parks) protected areas and a benefit program for those communities was needed.
A conscious effort was made to provide benefits from wildlife for communities who bear the cost of wildlife and who live in wildlife dispersal areas. In 1994 the first community wildlife sanctuary was established in Kimana, a dispersal area of the Amboseli National Park. For its pioneering and exemplary work in community-based wildlife conservation, Kimana sanctuary was granted the prestigious Silver Otter award by the British Guild of Travel Writers in 1996. This was the first time Kenya had ever received such an award.
Kimana was followed by Il Ngwesi community sanctuary, which borders Lewa Downs in Laikipia. Other community conservation efforts were started at Golini-Mwaluganje, the dispersal area of Shimba Hills National Park. Gates to the community conservation areas were erected and tourist facilities were built at each of the community conservation areas. Finally, a system of sharing gate receipts and bed-night incomes were established.
Join the author of Life Lessons of an Immigrant as he describes community conservation in Kenya and how benefits to communities who live in wildlife areas and who bear the cost of wildlife are providing tourist facilities for you and me when we next visit Kenya.