Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

Local scouts.
Tourism raises funds for the conservancy lease.
Project background

Species of focus: 



Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy, adjacent to Maasai Mara National Reserve. The Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy is an important corridor between the Loita/Ngurman hills and the Maasai Mara National Reserve with some 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.

Summary description: 

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.

Land management type: 

Communally managed land

Product(s) in trade: 

Product value at site level: 

Local market values of all animals poached for bushmeat is thought to be around US $110,000 (KES 10 million) a year. The international market value – essentially illegal elephant ivory – could be between US $20–$40 million (based on current rates of US $5 million for ivory from a big bull).

Types of poachers: 

Individuals from local community
Gangs from local community
Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 


Implementing organisation: 

Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust

Name of funding organisation(s): 

Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust raises money to cover the conservancy lease, management and operations by charging entry fees to tourism partners and from benefactors.

Community organisation(s) involved: 

Not specified.

Year the IWT project or component started 


Project status is currently: 

Community engagement

Approach taken to community engagement and its rationale: 

Community members are employed as game guards
Community members are rewarded for intelligence on illegal activities,
Community members benefit from tourism as a conservation incentive
Community members benefit from resource harvesting (e.g., small scale hunting; grazing; thatching grass) as conservation incentive
Community members are provided with livelihood alternatives in lieu of wildlife use
Human wildlife conflict addressed as a way to decrease incentive for revenge killing of wildlife
Community members benefit from development projects (e.g. infrastructure development such as health or education facilities) as a conservation incentive
Community members are provided with other non-financial benefits as conservation incentives (e.g. Community patrolling uniforms or camping kit)
Community members receive payments for conservation performance/services


Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust, as lessee, applies control of land use and pays the Maasai elders (the lessors) who act on behalf of all the community members. The full lease payments amount 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. New methods for making these payments, designed to guard against corruption, have been put in place. This is in spite of resistance from the Maasai elders, some of whom would like the land fully available year round for their cattle (90 per cent of cattle in Maasailand is owned by the 10 per cent of the elders).


As well as a steady income stream, the 3,400 registered members stand to gain from community development and infrastructure. During the first five years lease payments are being used to finance community projects including schools, bursaries, a centre for girls and medical support.

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
Build the capacity of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Strengthen the voice of local people in conservation/IWT debate and dialogue
Include local people in wildlife monitoring and enforcement networks
Build capacity of local people to tackle IWT
Ensure wildlife generate benefits, both tangible and intangible, for local people
Ensure benefits are shared equitably
Acknowledge and address costs to communities from living alongside wildlife
Ensure partnerships to tackle IWT are transparent, accountable and built on the basis of mutual respect
Recognise and strengthen the legitimacy of local communities as critical partners

What has been the impact on poaching/IWT? 

Don’t know/Case study/project has not assessed impact on poaching

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Not known/not documented

Further detail about the impact on poaching: 

The project is still in its infancy it is a little early to judge results, but 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. 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.
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

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.

What did not 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.

Further comments or additional information about community engagement 

Lessons learnt include:

  • 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.
  • Protracted discussions make it more difficult for influencers and leaders to back down when decisions are made.
  • Collective decision-making process means that results are likely to be more lasting than deals struck with individual landowners.
  • A secure source of funding is essential.

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
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Calvin Cottar

Date of case study entry: 

Wednesday, 17 August, 2016