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Supporting resilient community conservancies in Kenya

Photo: Elephant stands in national park in Kenya.
Elephants around Marsabit National Park in northern Kenya are rebounding following severe poaching a decade ago, but these increases have led to human–wildlife conflict when elephants raid croplands in local villages. Forest Service photo by John Kerkering.


—In 2016, Mary Rowland, a research wildlife biologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and John Kerkering, East Africa regional advisor for Forest Service International Programs, traveled to Kenya to explore a potential partnership between the Forest Service and the Northern Rangelands Trust. Founded in 2004, NRT serves as an umbrella organization to support 30 community conservancies in northern Kenya. Its mission is “to develop resilient community conservancies that transform people’s lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources.”

Many of the conservancies support valuable wildlife populations which often inhabit lands with no formal protection. Following the 2016 scoping mission, International Programs received funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support a more formal partnership of technical cooperation between the Forest Service and NRT, beginning with a site visit in April 2018.

One of the priority areas is mapping and modeling elephant movement in and around Marsabit National Park. The elephants have marked seasonal ranges. They inhabit the dense forest of Marsabit National Park during the dry season, but move out of the park during the wet season.

The Marsabit elephants have suffered from heavy poaching in the past, but their population is rebounding owing to the establishment of four conservancies in the area. However, human populations and agriculture are also growing, leading to conflicts with elephants, which may destroy crops, water pipes, and other resources.

Rowland is co-leading the Forest Service technical assistance to NRT that deals with mapping along with Dr. Alan Ager, a research forester with the Rocky Mountain Research Station. Two additional International Programs teams are addressing the spread of an invasive cactus and developing tools for field-based rangeland monitoring.

Next steps include a workshop that Rowland will attend in Marsabit National Park in early August 2018. The workshop will convene many key players with vested interests in the park’s future to discuss continued construction of a fence around the park and possible alternatives. Rowland will continue the analysis of human-elephant conflict locations to more specifically inform placement of gaps in the proposed park fence for wildlife ingress and egress.

International Programs teams will also help develop a monitoring program to evaluate the efficacy of the fence in preventing crop and forest resource damage while providing for unrestricted large mammal movements in and out of the park. Previously, Rowland worked in northern Kenya studying socioecological systems of the Turkana tribe.