Conservancies worry over poaching during lockdown

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 00:00 |
Rangers with rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Laikipia county. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Conservancies in the Maasai Mara region have expressed fears over poaching in animal sanctuaries due to reduced economic activities which have left communities vulnerable to food insecurity. 

While the rangers’ salaries might be guaranteed by the State or county governments, the fate of others in the 160 private conservancies in the Mara are uncertain. 

“The total lack of safari tourism will suffer dire consequences in the war against poaching — in Africa in general,”  warns Nicky Fitzgerald, CEO of Angama Resort inside the Mara. 

While the Mara Conservancy is not on the radar of big game poaching such as rhino and elephant, without a thriving game reserve, lodges lack business due to the covid-19 outbreak and consequently no cash for the anti-poaching teams that manages the reserve. 

“The biggest impact the Mara Conservancy will bear with will be from poaching due to families’ lack of food. 

So many camp staff have been sent home on indefinite unpaid leave; where does that leave them when they have to feed their families?” she asks. 

Mara Conservancy relies 100 per cent on park fees to meet operating costs. “At Angama, we have asked our investors for a war chest to keep on standby should the reserve need assistance when the funds run dry.

We are also spearheading the awareness amongst other lodges and camps to do the same,” Nicky told Travelwise. 

 One of the most active anti-poaching non-governmental organisations in the Mara is the Anne Kent Taylor Fund.

“Sadly, its efforts have been put on hold due to concern for their team’s health and restricted movement. The quicker the skies, reopen the better,” says Nicky.  

She says the pandemic has given lodge owners the responsibility to do everything in their power to keep their teams on the payroll, albeit at a reduced rates.

“We simply cannot look after our staff in good times and abandon them in the bad (seasons).

It is not easy to pay people when you have zero income, but there is a way, always. Jobs are irreplaceable in our part of the world,” she says.

Nashulai Conservancy Founder and CEO, Nelson Reiya, is worried about the fate of the 8,000 people in the surrounding communities who rely on tourism revenues for survival.

“Because of hunger, there have been some few incidences here and there of bush meat hunting,” he says.  

Riccardo Orizio, the owner of Saruni Lodges, has camps in both the Masai Mara and in the Samburu, which rely on foreign tourists to cater for both the local communities and private conservation projects.

He says though the wildlife is fine in both places, he fears that lack of tourism due to travel restrictions will affect the conservation efforts. 

“We have rangers on ground but we are having challenges paying them. It has become very expensive to maintain operations, which has lots of fixed costs,” he laments.  

Orizio is worried about the future of wildlife in both Samburu and Masaai Mara, which are not managed by KWS but are run by county governments.

He urges the county governments to work on ways of safeguarding game. 

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