When it comes to rhinos – it’s usually bad news. The illegal activity of international criminal cartels has resulted in rampant poaching across Africa and Asia, wiping out national populations and driving several subspecies to extinction. In the face of this devastation, one conservancy in Kenya has managed to grow its population of endangered black rhinos to more than 100 in just 10 years. It is now the only population of greater than 100 individuals in East Africa and hosts approximately 16% of the national population.
““The future of conservation” says Ol Pejeta’s CEO Richard Vigne; “is finding ways to secure habitat in a manner that maximises agricultural productivity and safeguards wildlife populations for posterity. A win-win for conservation and the community”
The success of their conservation efforts so far has led to a dilemma few at Ol Pejeta Conservancy ever dreamt of – they are fast approaching the maximum number of black rhinos that the 90,000-acre conservancy can sustain. This is a challenge that is catalysing new partnerships, and presenting a window to a future for wildlife conservation across Africa.
Protection of the rhino population is a priority for the conservancy and they utilise many different ‘tools’ as part of their elite anti-poaching armoury. Their squad includes a K-9 unit, with attack and scent detection dogs trained to locate ammunition, ivory and rhino horn. The rangers ensure each rhino is visually observed at least once a week. But it is their arsenal of wildlife monitoring technology that impresses. Infrared camera traps set up along a solar-powered electric fence provide 24/7 surveillance and their more recent deployment of drones is an innovation to conservation that is fast becoming irreplaceable. While technology is now a big part of the Conservancy’s success, it is also its investment in surrounding communities that has lead to overwhelming local support for wildlife conservation from the people living along the Conservancy’s borders.
Whilst the majority of their revenues are derived from eco-tourism, over the last 10 years Ol Pejeta has proven that an integrated system of wildlife and livestock management is not only beneficial to the grasslands but, at the same time, is helping to maximize land productivity financially.
This commercial (but totally sustainable) approach is allowing Ol Pejeta to reinvest as much as US$ 600,000 into community development projects in this year. From developing green energy for homesteads, to establishing ICT hubs in secondary schools and supporting mobile health clinics in rural villages, Ol Pejeta has ensured the benefits of conservation are seen where they are needed the most. In turn, local people work closely with the conservancy security teams – providing intelligence and reporting suspicious activity. This has been an invaluable asset not only in anti-poaching operations, but also in helping to reduce other crime in the area.
This innovative approach has brought community and conservation together.
In 2012, the Kenyan Government set aside 20,000 acres of agricultural land bordering Ol Pejeta for integrated wildlife, livestock and tourism use. Ol Pejeta now manages this area in collaboration with local communities. As well as providing additional grazing land for cattle it is also providing new wildlife habitat for black rhino at the same time.
Helping Rhinos is proud to partner with Ol Pejeta and support their amazing work conserving all of their rhinos, including Sudan, and all the other endangered wildlife that call the conservancy home.