The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: KWS Trains Community Scouts to Stop Wildlife Poaching

The Kenya Wildlife Service has embarked on an ambitious initiative that will involve local communities to promote wildlife conservation in the country.

Currently, Kenyan wildlife is faced with a myriad of challenges that are threatening their survival in and outside the protected areas. Consequently KWS has embarked on a long-term programme to train game scouts from a number of wildlife conservancies in a bid to involve communities in conservation programmes.

According to KWS assistant director in charge of community enterprises, Munira Bashir, there is a need to involve the communities in conservation in a bid to encourage viable land use. Speaking at Manyani recently when the 77 community rangers were reporting for training, Bashir said the training is important for the needed sustainable wildlife conservation and management outside protected areas as KWS seeks to increase its efforts in engaging communities to secure more space for wildlife. "Community co-operation is very essential for the success of conservation activities as the majority of these lands are used in ways that are in conflict with wildlife conservation," she said. She called on the communities living adjacent to parks to support conservation by giving out their land for wildlife conservation.

Bashir said the training of conservancy and sanctuary scouts is aimed at promoting the residents' participation in wildlife conservation. "Some 70 per cent of wildlife live in community land; that is why we want to engage communities in conservation," said Bashir. Currently, wildlife living outside protected areas are faced with a number of challenges that threaten their survival. "The main issues that affect conservation outside protected areas include human-wildlife conflict, wildlife insecurity, space for wildlife and limited technical and financial capacity to manage wildlife as a viable enterprise, limited wildlife education and awareness and slow implementation of land use policies," she said.

She pointed out that there is need to look for more land outside the parks and this land belongs to the communities. Bashir said that proper incentives should be directed towards the community and private land owners who adopt wildlife as a form of land use. "Land use practices that are incompatible with wildlife conservation can be minimised or confined to appropriate areas through capacity building, education awareness and creation of synergies with other conservation stakeholders," said Bashir.

She said that the three-month course will see the community rangers trained in wildlife education, counter terrorism, fitness training, drill, general law, GPS and Management Information Systems among other disciplines. The initiative spearheaded by the KWS Community Enterprise Development Department has so far benefited more than 606 community rangers.

Earlier this year, KWS trained 326 community rangers. "The course programme has managed to immensely tap into abundant indigenous knowledge from a wealth of field experience for conservation purposes," Bashir said. She added that communities play a vital role in the conservation of wildlife especially now when they are under a serious threat of extinction following destruction of their habitat through poor land use practices and poaching."KWS has recognised that for effective conservation we have to involve communities through engaging them in conservation in collaboration with KWS," she said.

According to the assistant director in charge of the Tsavo conservation area, Wilson Korir, most of the poaching in the country is happening outside the protected areas since they are not well manned. "The conservancies and sanctuaries lack the capacity to protect wildlife on their own and this is where we chip in to assist. We train their game scouts and deploy a number of rangers who assist them in keeping security," he said.

Korir said that there is need for communities to convert their ranches to wildlife sanctuaries in order to get maximum benefits. "There are around 28 ranches in the Taita Taveta County which are adjacent the Tsavo conservation area and if they were turned to conservancies where tourists come to see wildlife they will get a lot of wealth from them," said Korir.

He added that the Lumo community sanctuary in Maktau, Mwatate constituency, is an example of a community owned wildlife conservancy that is benefiting community members. Korir said that the conservancy helps the locals realise the importance of conservation through the benefits accrued from conservation.

Maktau is a perennial wildlife conflict hotspot in the region since it falls on a wildlife migration corridor. "Maktau is located in the middle of Tsavo East and West national parks where wildlife migrate to Mkomanzi conservation area in Tanzania every year," he said. He said the conservancy also serves as a wildlife dispersal area with abundant wildlife for eco-tourism investment.

According to the Lumo sanctuary manager Oscar Wadero, the name was coined from three ranches namely Lwalenyi, Mramba and Oza ranches which joined hands and donated their 45,000 acres of land for wildlife conservation. "Lumo is now one of the success stories in conservation around the Tsavo ecosystem since the community members get direct benefit from wildlife around them through eco-tourism and conservation.

Before that, they were hostile to wildlife due to the rampant human wildlife conflict that resulted from the elephants around here but now the picture is different since they are earning from wildlife," he said, adding that the communities' perception towards the elephants is now positive. Wadero said that the Lumo conservancy has an eco-lodge with 12 tents which is a magnate for tourists visiting Kenya to view its iconic big five."The Lions Bluff Hotel is currently being run by an investor on behalf of the community with a certain percentage going towards the communities' pocket," Wadero said. "100 per cent of our employees are local residents. We are now constructing the Latika primary school where local students do not have to walk long distances amidst the risk of wildlife attacks in order to reach the Msorongo primary school which is eight kilometers away as it was before," he said.

He said that they involve the community in tree planting projects for a fee. "We buy seedlings from community members and the remaining seedlings we encourage them to plant in their farms in a bid to conserve the environment. We are optimistic that this will help the community members attain the 10 per cent tree cover as stipulated in the constitution and at the same time earn a living," he said.

Apart from the eco-lodge, the conservancy hosts an annual event dubbed EGGS (Eye Go Game Spotting) competition which has been attracting a lot of visitors from outside the country. "The event is held on October 20 every year where 30 per cent of the money realised during the event is used for eye treatment among the locals," said Wadero, adding that they now know that the wildlife can also help them recover their vision through the sponsored eye treatment.

One of the game scouts who has undergone the KWS training and is now working at the Lumo conservancy as a security personnel, Ludovick Malemba, said the initiative has turned the locals lifestyle from subsistence bush meat traders to conservationists. "We now see the benefits of conservation since it has built us schools, health facilities and provided employment to a number of us," she told the Star during an interview at the conservancy.

The mother of three, 34, said she was recruited as a game scout in 1997 after completing her secondary education at Dr Aggrey High School in Taita. "We were taken to Naivasha for a one-month field assistance training where we gained these skills," she said. Malemba said that after training, she was not employed immediately since the sanctuary became fully operational in 2001. "The sanctuary took time to pick up although I had to be patient enough to finally secure this job," she explained as she moved to open the gate for visitors who had just arrived at Lumo.

On dealing with poaching which is rampant in the area, she said their main disadvantage is that they are not armed, unlike the poachers. She, however, exuded confidence that although not armed, she can confidently handle an armed poacher."I have been trained to spot the enemy before he or she spots me. Our job requires one who is attentive and sharp all the time," she said as her smooth face opened into a wide smile.

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