Elephants, big cats and Maasai giraffe are among the species to benefit from the community conservancy initiative in which local landowners are paid to protect wildlife in a key corridor on the south east boundary of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust is implementing the programme and pays Maasai community landowners of Olderkesi for the lease of 7,000 acres for a designated conservancy.
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. The terms of the agreement mean that families and their livestock living within the area are being moved out and this relocation is currently underway.
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. As well as poaching, the trend in Olderkesi is to subdivide and fence land for farming and livestock and has a significant impact on wildlife. Big cats are also at high risk from retribution killings for livestock losses. The conservancy scheme is based on giving the local community a financial incentive to ensure wildlife protection within the conservancy area by preventing poaching and stopping the fragmentation of land for farming.
The scheme is based on lease payments that are competitive with alternative land use, such as agriculture and domestic livestock grazing. Infringements of the agreed land use, for example poaching, triggers deductions in lease payments to the Maasai community leaders who are then responsible for making up the deficit. 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). This aspect of the agreement promotes a collective liability which is a powerful mechanism to enforce land use for wildlife.
The conservancy has a team of locally sourced scouts and runs a small undercover unit that 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 helps to ensure they get their full lease payments.
The scheme includes provision for controlled livestock grazing during the wet season when tourism is low.