By Isabelle Parsons, a consultant to San Diego Zoo Global living in Laikipia County, Kenya.
Westgate Community Conservancy was formed by Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) in 2004 from the Ngutuk Ongiron Group Ranch. San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) has been supporting Westgate Conservancy from almost its inception since 2005, back when there were only 10 staff members. Now there are 47!
Fundamental to the success of a conservancy is wildlife security. This is an area SDZG has provided great long-term support to Westgate Conservancy, from which it is now reaping significant rewards. Westgate Conservancy employs 35 rangers trained by NRT and partially funded by SDZG. The rangers conduct daily foot patrols across all eight zones of the conservancy, collecting data on wildlife numbers and reporting daily wildlife sightings. The innovative system the rangers use to report wildlife sightings is called Wildlife CoMMs, which allows rangers to record the animal sightings and their GPS coordinates. This data is then uploaded into a centralized database for analysis. These rangers are based in six outposts, four of which are well equipped permanent outposts built with financial support from the government of Samburu County.
The rangers’ job is multifaceted. Aside from collection of data on wildlife numbers, the rangers have an important role in raising awareness within communities that live within and around the conservancy, on human-wildlife conflict mitigation methods and discussing the importance of wildlife. Over the years, a strong intelligence network within the communities has been built, providing rangers with intel across the conservancy. As a direct result of this improved intelligence-led security, poaching levels have been at zero for the past five years. Quite an achievement!
Although human-wildlife conflict remains an issue throughout the conservancy, with support from conservancy rangers, the communities are able to fill out Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) compensation forms when needed. The rangers assist by taking pictures of the incidents and providing the GPS coordinates, thus allowing the communities to apply for compensation from KWS rather than retaliating directly with the wildlife.
The future looks bright for both the human and animal inhabitants of Westgate Conservancy, given the increased support from the County Government of Samburu to Westgate in recent years. Westgate have received 18 million shillings ($180,000 US) from the County Government over the past few years for a new vehicle, ranger outposts, the construction of cottages to host researchers and a learning center for the community, researchers and partners. Of Westgate’s 35 rangers, 27 have been appointed as National Police Reservists for Westgate by the County Government, showing the improved recognition of Westgate from the County Government.
The increased security at Westgate Conservancy is evidenced in the growth of giraffe numbers. According to a Kenya Wildlife Service aerial survey, 10 years ago there were no giraffe in Westgate, and today there are an estimated 60-100 giraffe within the conservancy, clearly showing the wonderful benefits of improved security.