Protecting a Fragile Area in Kenya
Authored by Angela Yang.
The Earth’s wildest places are rapidly vanishing and along with them, the natural resources that support life itself. Developing countries struggle against poverty to balance human livelihoods and the conservation of biodiversity, and Kenya is no exception. Over the past few decades, tourism in Kenya has grown into a substantial industry that has contributed up to 25% of the nation’s GDP. However, political insecurity, terrorism, and the rampant illegal trade in wildlife threaten conservation as well as the tourism industry that supports the Kenyan economy.
The Mara Conservancy, a Kenyan non-profit organization, has worked with local leaders, communities, and partners since 2001 to transform the 510 km2 Mara Triangle into a model of sustainable protected area management based on transparency and accountability. We employ 120 staff and oversee eight patrol vehicles, five teams of tracker and detection dogs, as well as construction and maintenance equipment and crews.
The Mara Conservancy sees the Mara Triangle as an integral part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem that needs to remain healthy for people and wildlife of Kenya. We are committed to working with local leaders, communities and partners in a leading, world-class public/private partnership, to sustainably manage the Mara Triangle and its surrounding ecosystem through a transparent and accountable approach that creates a secure environment for wildlife, visitors and the community.
Mara Conservancy’s operating budget of close to $2 million USD—almost half of which supports anti-poaching patrols—has been funded solely on 36% of tourism revenue; however, the downturn in Kenya’s tourism industry has greatly impacted our ability to conserve the Mara Triangle and maintain its infrastructure for tourists. Poaching events occur with increasing frequency in Kenya and reports of slaughtered elephants and rhinos surface from all protected areas around the country; thus, Mara Conservancy is struggling to maintain the critical operations that protect the wildlife within the Mara Triangle.
Two of the key projects that Mara Conservancy aims to raise funds for are:
Black rhino conservation: In the 1970s, an estimated 120 black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) roamed the 1500 km2 expanse of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya; however, poaching plunged this number to 18 individuals within a decade. The “Mara” is unique because it is the only protected area in Kenya with an indigenous, free-ranging black rhino population, unaffected by reintroductions, and with the potential to become one of the largest populations of black rhino in Africa given the size of the Reserve. Currently, the entire population stands at a mere 25-30 individuals so the unprecedented surge in demand for rhino horn from Asia poses an imminent threat to this small population.
African elephant conservation: African elephants are being hunted out of existence before our eyes. Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 96 elephants are killed each day, on average, to satiate an illegal trade that has skyrocketed into a global crisis: in just over three decades, the African elephant population plummeted from approximately 1.2 million animals to a mere 420,000.
In 2012, the Maasai Mara Ecosystem, encompassing the Reserve and surrounding Conservancies, lost 139 of its estimated 1200 to 1500 elephants to poaching, or between 9 and 12% of the resident population. At this rate, elephants may one day vanish from the Mara landscape without enhanced efforts at preventing the illegal killing of an iconic African species. The Mara Conservancy currently operates daily anti-poaching/de-snaring patrols that monitor wildlife as well as potential human incursions into the Mara Triangle. In collaboration with partner organizations, Mara Elephant Project and Save the Elephants, Mara Conservancy is able to combine available Global Information System (GIS) information from collared elephants, reports from patrols, and communications with partners to strategically target critical areas for monitoring and law enforcement.
We are seeking funds to support and strengthen our patrols. Increased patrols and improved technology will help us better target weak vulnerable areas and bolster our enforcement abilities. If you would like to learn more about supporting Mara Conservancy, feel free to email Angela Yang, Mara Conservancy’s Development Advisor.