Conservation efforts in Kenya received a major boost after ranches in Taita-Taveta County unveiled a joint 2019-2022 Strategic Plan under Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA) in a move that formally recognizes over 900,000 acres of rangeland within Tsavo Ecosystem owned by ranches as home to thousands of wild animals.
TTWCA brings 28 ranches and seven existing conservancies. It covers slightly over 24 per cent of the county and occupies 950,647 acres of land.
Mcharo Bong’osa, coordinator for TTWCA, said the joint strategic plan was the magic bullet that would see the rejuvenation of ranches and boost their profits margin. He added that wildlife as a resource could be exploited sustainably to boost the income of the local residents directly.
“Conservation is the way to go. We will reap the benefits from both livestock keeping and wildlife. This is the future of ranching,” he said.
Most ranches in Taita-Taveta have only been engaging in livestock keeping as the only economic activity with a few
dabbling in mining to supplement their income. The underutilization of massive chunks of rangeland saw ranches suffer frequent invasion by illegal herders who are often overgrazed contributing to severe land degradation of the ranches.
The change of use from strictly livestock keeping to wildlife conservation is expected to halt the influx of illegal
herders in the ranches while at the same time allowing ranchers reap profits from tourism sector.
Amongst the main goals for the association are rehabilitating the degraded Tsavo Eco-system, establishing of two new conservancies and promotion of livestock value chain with an eye on the international beef market. The association will also push for expansion of carbon offset programme to cover all the 26 ranches from the current 15.
The launch was also attended by senior county officials amongst them County Executive Member for Agriculture and Livestock, Davis Mwangoma, KWS senior warden for community service, Zainabu Salim, Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) CEO Dickson Kaelo and Directors of 26 ranches.
Taita-Taveta is home to several conservancies, including Lumo, Rukinga, Mbulia, Taita Hills and Ngutuni. Others are Ndara and Chalongo. Kasighau and Taita-Wildlife Conservancy are registered as emerging conservancies.
Ms. Salim said it was gratifying to note that ranchers were embracing conservation and exploring how to exploit wildlife resource, adding that KWS was willing to offer technical advice on conservation matters to the association.
“We are ready to give technical advice and show what needs to be done when called upon,” she said.
Kaelo hailed the 26 ranches for embracing conservation as a key part of ranch management. He said many international conservation groups and donors were seeking partnerships to promote conservation of wildlife and Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association would benefit from such initiatives.
“This is a major achievement for wildlife and ranchers and we are pledging our support to make sure you reap benefits of conservation,” he said.
KWCA has a membership of community, private and group conservancies from 11 regional associations.
The associations include Northern Rangeland Trust, Amboseli Ecosystem Trust, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, Rift Valley
Conservancies Association and Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association amongst others.
The formation of TTWCA means that some of the Big Five namely lions, elephants and buffalos will be accommodated in the ranches without attracting ranchers’ wrath. In the past, several ranchers complained that elephants were destroying water pans and other ranch infrastructure meant for livestock.
Most ranches are favorites for elephants due to adequate pasture and availability of water especially during the dry seasons. The ranches are also located along the jumbo migration corridors.
Ms. Salim said it was possible for livestock and wild animals to coexist peacefully in the ranches.
“Both livestock and wildlife can utilize ranch environment to benefit the owners,” she said.
The reports that TTWCA has formally added close to one million acres for utilization by wildlife from Tsavo National Park which occupies over 2.1 million hectares is likely to be met with consternation by leaders who feel the national park has more than enough land.
In the recent past, leaders in the county have been agitating for parts of Tsavo to be hived off for community use while other leaders are pushing for sharing of park revenues with the county government.
Christopher Mwambingu, nominated MCA, says the national park occupies over 63 per cent of the county while the ranches occupy 24 per cent. He says the local residents should start getting value of the land under wildlife.
“We need to share in the revenues of the park as a token of appreciation for giving Tsavo such a huge land,” he said.
By Wagema Mwangi