Rhino Sanctuary Wins Ecotourism ‘Oscar’

AMHRB90 Black rhinosAs awards time comes around once again and gongs are given out to the great and good we felt it was timely to celebrate the success of Ol Pejeta, an impressive Kenyan rhino sanctuary we visited late last year, which has just been handed the well-earned title of ‘Private Conservancy of the Year’.

Ol Pejeta’s entry in the country’s annual Eco Warrior awards, which set out to showcase exceptional achievements in responsible tourism and sustainability, was based on its innovative conservation concept of integrating livestock ranching with the wildlife on the conservancy. This system maximises land productivity so the conservancy can plough profits back into the various community projects it supports.

AMHRB92  Black rhinsoOl Pejeta lies at the heart of the country, in Laikipia, a region renowned for rhino conservation. Due to its unique location the conservancy is said to support higher densities of plains game and predators than most other Kenyan reserves.

We discussed the story of Ol Pejeta’s success with Samuel Mutisya, the conservancy’s wildlife administrator. We’d just returned from a dawn walk tracking some of the conservancy’s black rhinos with two of their expert rangers. We’d encountered a beautiful mother and her calf feeding among the whistling acacia and been lucky enough to watch them for some time from a safe distance. We’d also been taken to see the conservancy’s attractive Boran cattle, key players in the reserve’s story, being rounded up and sprayed.

AC84 Boran cattleSamuel explained that historically Ol Pejeta functioned purely and simply as a cattle ranch – wildlife was deemed secondary to the cattle ranching activities. But in the 1970s and 80s insecurity in the north of the country led to the movement of wildlife south. Increased numbers of elephants made ranching less and less profitable. More predators meant cattle had to be put in predator-proof bomas at night, reducing opportunities for 24 hour grazing.

So the management turned their attention to setting up a game reserve and fenced off the eastern bit of the conservancy. In the ’80s and early ’90s rhino poaching had sky-rocketed (rhino numbers in Kenya dropped from about 20,000 in the early ’60s to about 400 in the ’90s) and the government began to look to protect them more intensively in sanctuaries. It was then that the Kenya Wildlife Service put the first founder population of black rhinos on Ol Pejeta. The reserve was to become a pioneer in rhino conservation in the country.

AC86 Cattle herder, Ol PejetaIn 2004 ownership of the conservancy was handed to Flora and Fauna International and, with the rhino population more than doubled, the management approach switched emphasis to conservation. The area for wildlife was increased. ‘We could now have at least 120 black rhinos comfortably and we had about 46 then. So we felt it wise to stock the area with new rhinos, relieving other areas which had reached capacity and strengthening the gene pool,’ Samuel told us. ‘From 2007 we also adopted a new management approach which meant that wildlife and cattle were integrated, rather than having the two separately’.

‘That has proved a much better model because you make more money per unit of land, and so maximise resources. You can use cattle to shape habitats, as a tool to manage the land. In most cases, at night because you have predators, you use a predator-proof boma. These bomas become deposits of dung, which means you can enrich land by moving them around. You can rehabilitate areas which are eroded by placing the bomas there. The bomas are mobile, you can move them every two weeks, or perhaps every week if it’s raining. You can use them to graze down moribund grass, which otherwise you would burn,’ he explained.

AC82 Boran cattle, Ol Pejeta‘Ol Pejeta has an increasing population of almost all of its wildlife – unlike elsewhere -and the amount of money we make at the moment, compared to prior to 2004 has increased by more than $3 per acre.’

 He went on to explain that if tourism levels drop, as they did in Kenya after the 2008 elections, the conservancy could be sustained by its cattle and wheat production: ‘It’s risk management. It helps us get through thin times. The two complement each other, rather than being mutually exclusive’.

Ol Pejeta operates a successful, intensive monitoring system of all its rhinos, which are highly protected. We’re going to look at this in more detail here in a further post. In the meantime the fact that this award-winning conservancy now has a nine per cent annual growth rate in its rhino population, compared to the government’s six per cent national strategy target, is living proof of its conservation success.

If you want to find out more, visit the conservancy’s website at www.olpejetaconservancy.org

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  1. Remembering Rhinos - Saving rhinos, one photograph at a time: Sustainability Story of the Week - Eco Companion Blog - January 24, 2017

    […] black rhino numbers in Kenya dropped from about 20,000 in the 1960s to about 400 in the 1990s, the government looked for ways to stop the slaughter. It turned to wildlife sanctuaries where wildlife can be monitored and protected whilst roaming […]

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