Adventure Culture Sustainability Tsavo

MWCT: A community-based approach to wildlife conservation

on
May 23, 2019

Going into 2019, I had many resolutions, just like anybody else. Apart from working out more, I decided spend more time in nature. Kicking off the new year I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Campi Ya Kanzi as well as the Maasai Wilderness Conservation trust at Chyulu Hills National Park.

I’ve been following the work of the MWCT for quite some time and a few months ago I decided to take a closer look and see first hand the kind of work that was being done.

I planned to start my journey at 6am since it would take me about 6 hours to get there from Nairobi, but due to unforeseen circumstances relating to my inability to wake up in time, I left at about 7:30.
The drive itself was quite relaxing, however I unknowingly made life much harder for me by taking the longer route getting there which was driving on Mombasa road until Mtito Andei and then entering Tsavo West National Park through the Mtito Andei Gate. I arrived around 4pm with a flat tire, but the warm welcome that I received made me forget all about it. After I had explored the area and was shown to my room I was lucky enough to catch a stunning sunset from my veranda. I have never seen one like this before!

Once I got there and started talking to both, the management and the employees, I soon realized that this place was something special. There was a positively strange sense of deep unity in the air. I could feel that everybody was happy about where they were at and what they are working for: The preservation of indigenous Maasai culture as well as the conservation of wildlife. 

So what exactly does the MWCT do?

 
Conservation

The conservation aspect has various components to it. Wildlife protection, species research, predator protection, REDD+ carbon programs, rangeland restoration and land conservancies to name a few. The trust also works together with the Kenyan Wildlife Service to train community rangers from the local Maasai community of the Kuku Ranch. The initiative employs 15 young Maasai warriors, also known as the Simba scouts which are trained to track the lions and protect them by informing the community about their presence in grazing areas and avoid livestock predation that may lead to conflict and the retaliatory killing of lions. Retaliatory killings by the Maasai is a big issue within wildlife conservation as it is traditionally seen as a means to stop lions from killing their livestock. Personally, I can understand the reasoning as livestock is the primary means of livelihood for the Maasai, on the other hand creating an alternative way of compensation is definitely needed to keep lion numbers up and make sure that the Maasai aren’t being negatively affected.

Education

The model created by the MWCT enables great potential for the improvements in the realms of social development. The trust works together with the Ministry of Education to combat lack of access to quality education that is present in many parts of rural Kenya. MWCT constructed 8 classrooms, a 2 bedroom headteacher’s house, a modern library with books and computers and provided piped water and solar power to Iltilal Primary School with the hopes to replicate this provision of infrastructure across the rest of Kuku when funds are available. While they aren’t simply following the standard curriculum, they also try to teach kids about conservation awareness from a very early age. This enables youngsters to look at the Human-Wildlife relationship in a new and more positive way, which can only create mutual benefits.

Having briefly worked together with a rescue center in Kibera, I noticed first hand how important it is to provide educational opportunities to youngsters as they have such a willingness to learn and a huge ambition to make a difference and create a better life for themselves. Often enough education is highly taken for  granted, especially if you’ve grown up in a developed country, but when you see the other side of the coin you realize the actual privilege of being able to pursue primary and secondary education.

Health

Access to health care facilities in rural areas within Kenya is still quite scarce. The MWCT therefore took it upon themselves to employ the only doctor in the area. This has great benefits as, according to statistics by the WHO, the major cause of death within Sub-Saharan Africa is through the infection of communicable diseases. The trust therefore doesn’t just create access to health care, but also provides employment and training by working together with the Ministry of Health to create outreach and education programs.

Livelihoods and Ecotourism

The trust is also heavily involved in improving livelihoods of the local Maasai community. A lot of the community members are employed by the ecotourism partner Campi Ya Kanzi. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Luca to stay in one of their tents which was a absolute amazing experience.  

Luca, probably one of the warmest and most authentic people I’ve meet in a while was a great host who, unlike many other Managing Directors, liked to run things hands on, meaning interacting and dining with guests as well as taking them on game drives and private flying safaris. The tents were quite comfortable and (more importantly) in every aspect sustainable.

Apart from being able to document the work by the MWCT I took advantage of my amazing surroundings and went on a few game drives and a safari walk.
The serenity throughout my stay felt mesmerizing. The camp does not provide Wifi in the rooms and there is no cell phone reception meaning you’re completely disconnected from technology, which can be daring for some but a tranquil experience for others. It was certainly the latter for me.

The first morning I woke up at Campi Ya Kanzi, the staff was kind enough to give me a wake up call. I was greeted with delicious coffee as well as a few biscuits with, which the birds had a field day with. Enjoying a good cup of coffee overlooking the sunrise and having great views of Kilimanjaro was just a delight. I can’t remember the time I felt such serenity. I took advantage of being at the Chyulu Hills (for the first time btw) and therefore went on a safari walk. It was not so much about seeing animals for me, which I did (mostly Giraffes) but about enjoying the serene environment and the great views!

I’m happy to say that the visit to the MWCT is one of the major reasons I chose to focus my MSc dissertation of community-based wildlife conservation models. Personally, I think it is immensely important to include indigenous knowledge systems in current environmental policy conversations. Some of the pastoral communities who have been marginalized due to the implementation of isolated and “protected” areas created during colonial rule, still face some of the negative consequences today. Fortress conservation, which is a type of conservation based on the belief that biodiversity protection is best achieved by creating protected areas where ecosystems can function in isolation from human disturbance, is truly outdated and should in my opinion not be pursued any further. It assumes that local people use natural resources in irrational and destructive ways, and as a result cause biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. Wildlife in Kenya is in many respects on the decline and if we don’t think about alternative ways in which we can contribute to effective conservation, wildlife numbers will continue to fall. The MWCT shows that alternative ways to combat the issue of wildlife is possible whilst at the same time improving the livelihoods of the Maasai.

After two nights and three days it was time for me to undertake my journey back to Nairobi. This time I took the Loitoktok route which was great. The road between Loitoktok and Emali is such a nice drive. No dodging crazy truck drivers with apparent death wishes or anything else that might make the journey unnecessarily stressful. Every now and then just a few goats and cows. I also got to see some game (Giraffes and Zebra mostly) along the way. I saved about 2 hours so if anybody is planning to drive to Campi Ya Kanzi, I highly recommend using the Emali-Loitoktok route.


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