Northern Rangelands Trust

Northern Rangelands Trust

Interconservancy peace meeting.
Naibunga Conservancy Scouts examining an elephant carcass.
NRT Rapid Reaction Team.
Project background

Species of focus: 



19 community conservancies in northern Kenya covering 2.5 million hectares of community land.

Summary description: 

Community conservancies are proving increasingly effective as partners in the fight against ivory poachers in Kenya. In the north of the country, conservancies now manage more than 2.5 million hectares of community land, much of it critical range for the African elephant. Operating in areas which are remote, extensive and difficult for government agencies to control, the conservancies are in the front line of the battle against the illegal ivory trade.

Conservancies represent constituent communities who own a defined area of community land, either legally or traditionally. Collectively, the landowners ensure the rights and responsibilities of conservation and share the benefits from conservation among the community. First established in Northern Kenya in 1995, there has been growing demand from communities to set up conservancies since the mid–2000s.

The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has been a key player in their development in Northern Kenya since 2005, helping to set up and support 19 conservancies in the north of Kenya. NRT's conservancy approach to tackling poaching is multi-faceted and includes:

  1. Community rangers
    A network of around 400 community rangers monitor and survey wildlife across their conservancies during daily patrols. All are in direct radio contact with national law enforcement authorities, and just over a third are armed. Those who do carry arms operate as National Police Reservists, under the Kenyan Police.
  2. Mobile rapid-response teams (named 9-1 and 9-2 after their radio call sign)
    Three armed mobile rapid response teams - made up of 25 rangers drawn from the constituent communities - cover all NRT community conservancies. These specially trained and equipped multi-ethnic groups are able to move between different tribal areas, operating where traditional law enforcement agencies would not have access.
  3. Intelligence gathering and social pressure
    Increased NRT investment is making intelligence gathering more formal and strategic, and the conservancies maintain a local informer network which complements the Kenya Wildlife Service's intelligence system. Not least of the conservancies’ roles is applying social pressure to expose and shame criminals. Customary punishments, such as cursing individuals, still carry weight in traditional communities.

The cost of all this is significant. The NRT and the conservancies together invest around US $1 million a year in the community policing programme. The government, so far, has given little financial support. However, new legislation, devolving power to county bodies is likely to change this.

Other aspects of the NRT include a Livestock to Market Programme, an NRT trading company and support for women's empowerment and inclusion.

The Livestock to Market program rewards conservancies that have implemented holistic rangeland practices and other important conservation activities. NRT pays fair market prices for cattle, directly purchasing animals from pastoralists in high performing conservancies. Direct purchases of cattle save pastoralists from the arduous process of leading herds to market, which is costly, dangerous and often results in underweight livestock.

NRT Trading is an enterprise development engine that assists community conservancy members in the production and marketing of locally made products such as beadwork and crafts (in 2014, NRT Trading obtained limited company status). To date, NRT Trading has trained more than 900 women in craft making, accounting, marketing and leadership. Women who have successfully completed an accounting class with NRT Trading are qualified to secure a loan through a microcredit scheme. This financing mechanism gives entrepreneurial women a chance to create small businesses and diversify their income. After a two-month grace period, women must repay the loan over the course of a year at 5 percent interest.

NRT encourages the formation of women’s groups in member conservancies. There are around 2,235 women in 135 groups in 12 conservancies. Many of the women’s groups access NRT Trading training programs. NRT is partnering with the Samburu Girls Foundation to hold local workshops to empower women, sensitize communities to harmful cultural practices (e.g. female genital mutilation), provide governance and leadership training, and inspire community members to become champions for equal representation and the education of young girls.

Land management type: 

Communally managed land

Product(s) in trade: 

Types of poachers: 

Individuals from local community
Individuals from outside
Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 


Implementing organisation: 

The Northern Rangelands Trust is an umbrella organization that provides support, guidance, training and technical expertise to community conservancies.

Name of funding organisation(s): 

Over the past decade, the Northern Rangelands Trust has formed crucial partnerships with more than 35 national and international government agencies, foundations, zoos, and NGOs. Support of core operations and major programs has been provided by the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID), the French international development agency (AFD), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the international development arms of the Dutch and Danish Embassies. The Nature Conservancy and Fauna and Flora International provide the organization with funding and technical expertise and also serve as institutional members on NRT’s board. The International Elephant Foundation supports NRT’s anti-poaching efforts, specifically the anti-poaching units 9-1 and 9-2. The Tusk Trust funds security and ranger operations as well as the core operating costs of several NRT member community conservancies. Contributors to the establishment of the Sera Rhino Sanctuary include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Hawksford Foundation and the Lundin Foundation. A partnership with Zoos Victoria in Australia has provided an important outlet for beadwork and crafts produced by NRT Trading.

Community organisation(s) involved: 

Northern Rangelands Trust’s community conservancies are comprised of 16 different ethnic groups. The majority of conservancy members are pastoralists or agro-pastoralists, although fishing is an important livelihood in coastal conservancies. The governing body of the Northern Rangelands Trust is called the Council of Elders. The majority of the Council is composed of elected conservancy member chairpersons, joined by representatives from the Kenyan Wildlife Service, local county councils, NGOs and the private sector. The Council of Elder reviews the performance of conservancy members and ensures that they adhere to the standards and principles of NRT. The Council of Elders also appoints eight of the 15 member NRT Board of Directors.

Project status is currently: 

Community engagement

Approach taken to community engagement and its rationale: 

Community members are employed as game guards
Community members benefit from tourism as a conservation incentive
Community members are provided with livelihood alternatives in lieu of wildlife use
Community members benefit from development projects (e.g. infrastructure development such as health or education facilities) as a conservation incentive


During the course of 2013, the Northern Rangelands Trust conservancies generated 700 full time (including tourism operations) and 800 part time jobs. Revenue from tourism was US$ 545,000. Joint conservancy Northern Rangelands Trust programmes raised livestock sales and revenue for women through microenterprises. In 2013, sales of beadwork and crafts earned nearly one million USD, providing women with a reliable source of income.

In 2014, 1063 pastoral households earned 68.3 million Kenyan shillings (US$ 660,000) from cattle sales.


Non-financial benefits have included better security (considered more important by communities than direct financial benefits), improved rangeland health and access to grazing, the use of conservancy transport for emergencies, increased social cohesion, and access to bursaries for the education of young people. Some 60 % of tourism revenue has been invested in community development projects based on priorities determined by the communities themselves.

An example of increased security is provided by the 9-1 rapid response team. The teams were formed in response to a request from the communities for a representative, multi-ethnic security force to address longstanding violence in the area. Their multi-ethnic diversity has enabled the team to gain trust and intelligence from villagers living in the conservancies where they patrol. Since their deployment, incidents of poaching, roadside banditry and cattle rustling have declined. Because of their close ties with the Kenya Police, members of the 9-1 team are seen as both community policemen and wildlife guardians.

NRT has also created a Conflict Resolution Team that is tasked with creating conditions for peace between ethnic groups and within communities. The team is led by a retired senior chief and nine elders known for their skills in conflict resolution. The team mediates disputes over issues such as grazing rights, water rights or disputed election results, and helps to craft mutually agreeable solutions to conflicts, often leading to the creation of new bylaws or memoranda of understanding.

NRT inaugurated the Kom Peace Marathon in 2011. The aim of the marathon was to create an event that allowed different ethnic groups from five conservancies to come together, communicate and form connections. For some competitors, it was their first experience interacting with members of other tribes. The first marathon was so successful it was convened again the following year. The night before the marathon, young runners shared a meal, told stories, danced and sang together. Such a harmonious gathering of different ethnic groups would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

The community engagement project is: 

Stand alone initiative

Do community guards carry firearms? 


What “rules of engagement” for working with communities does the case study address? 

Advance and recognize and respect the rights of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Include local people in wildlife monitoring and enforcement networks
Ensure wildlife generate benefits, both tangible and intangible, for local people

What has been the impact on poaching/IWT? 

Poaching levels have decreased

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Wildlife populations have declined

Further detail about the impact on poaching: 

Most conservancies in Northern Kenya were set up between 2001 and 2011 and appear to be effective in reducing poaching. Anecdotal evidence, carcass data and aerial survey data on elephants between 2002 and 2008 show that elephant populations increased by 27 % during this period, and the proportion elephants killed in the Northern Rangelands Trust conservancy areas was significantly lower than outside. Since 2009, better ranger based monitoring of elephant mortality shows a steady increase in poaching activity from 2009 to 2012. During this time, the percentage of carcasses found that had been killed illegally rose from 34 % to 81 %, and the overall elephant population between 2008 and 2012 declined by 14 %. However, over the past two years poaching has declined, to 59 % in 2013 to 43 % in 2014. While conservancies were unable to contain the massive spike in poaching levels in 2011 and 2012, they have upped their game in the past two years, working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Police and boosting investment. Reports from rangers suggest that the number of elephant sightings are stable on conservancy land, in spite of overall population decline. This suggests the elephants concentrate in areas where they feel safe.
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

In more general terms, community conservancies have become highly effective and respected institutions bringing tangible benefits to the people they represent, as well as a significant force in countering illegal wildlife trade. The inclusive nature of conservancies is key to their influence and success. They do not set up boundaries between people and wildlife, nor do they exclude other people from using the land. Inherent in their structure and organisation is the capacity to resolve local issues and ensure that the outcome is upheld.

Kenya is a highly supportive of public–private partnerships, and this is the framework for successful liaison between the conservancies and official anti-poaching efforts.

NRT annually score conservancy performance against a set of criteria that measure 1) accountability, representation, transparency and equity (2) financial management, donor relations and fundraising (3) conservancy operations. The scoring mechanism provides a quick analysis of the state of governance in the conservancies and also helps NRT prioritise support to conservancies. The top ranked conservancy is recognised with the Northern Rangelands Trust Conservancy Performance award.

What did not work and why? 

There are a number of challenges to the community conservancy model including

  • Funding constraints and financial sustainability: it costs US$50–70,000 a year on average to run a conservancy, and investment needs a minimum ten year timeline. To date, commercial income from tourism, livestock and payments for ecosystem services has covered between 12-18 % of the community conservancies' annual operating costs.
  • The recent down-turn in tourism in Kenya has further reduced available funding. 
  • General insecurity remains an issue.
  • Corruption within the police and judiciary impedes prosecution of poachers.

While NRT's annual governance assessment scores are improving in a number of conservancies significant challenges remain, including the lack of local capacity and ongoing ethnic and community rivalries. The ever present threat of violence poses particular challenges to governance. In 2014, there was a sharp increase in cattle rustling and numbers of people killed in insecurity incidents, including the first ever loss of NRT rangers (two rangers were killed while following up on two separate incidents of stock theft).

NRT encourages member conservancies to include women in their directorships and management teams, but to date, only a handful of women occupy leadership roles. NRT recognises in their Strategic Plan that this under-representation of women in decision-making roles in conservancies remains an organisational weakness.

Further comments or additional information about community engagement 

Lessons learnt include

  • Ownership of all decision making must be by the local communities; with government and NGO associates operating as supportive partners. 
  • Non-financial benefits should not be overlooked as an incentive.
  • Peer process is the strongest influencing factor in changing established mind-sets within communities.
  • It is important for conservancies to have an identifiable headquarters in the community.
  • For conservancies to survive cycles of poor governance under different leadership, maintaining strong community ownership is key; poor management will be exposed and addressed.
  • A conservancy takes 12 months to set up and 2–3 years to become effective.
  • It is important for a supportive partner to act as ‘honest broker’ in all technical aspects of conservancy operations.

Case study information is up to date as of: 

Bibliographic information

Main source(s) of information: 

Published documentation


Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade


Roe D (Ed)

Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

A contribution to the symposium "Beyond enforcement", South Africa



Place published: 

London, UK

Additional source(s) of information: 


Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya (English Version)



Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

Equator Initiative Case Study Series.

Place published: 

New York, US


Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya (Swahili Version)



Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

Equator Initiative Case Study Series.

Place published: 

NewYork, US
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Juliet King and Ian Craig

Date of case study entry: 

Tuesday, 16 August, 2016