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Closer look: Ol Pejeta Conservancy

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Written by: Kristi Foster
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In 2003, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), with the help of the Arcus Foundation, protected 36,420 hectares (90,000 acres) at the foot of Mount Kenya. Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) is a vital part of the Laikipia ecosystem in northern Kenya, protecting critical migration corridors and diverse wildlife, including black rhinos and Grevy’s zebra.

The project safeguards the conservancy’s wildlife, provides a sanctuary for chimpanzees and generates income through wildlife tourism, which is reinvested in conservation and community development. OPC also supports the management of the neighbouring ADC Mutara ranch, which provides connectivity to 32,388 hectares of the wider Laikipia landscape.

Ownership of OPC was transferred from FFI to a Kenyan non-profit entity in 2005 under a long-term management agreement. Together with founding members the Arcus Foundation and Lewa Conservancy, FFI remains on the Board.

Conserving black and white rhinos

Initially stocked with 21 eastern black rhinos in 1992-3, a further 27 animals were translocated to OPC in 2006-7, followed by a small founder population of southern white rhinos. The Conservancy now harbours the largest single population of black rhinos in East Africa and also generates surplus animals through biological management for re-stocking other areas of secure habitat in Kenya, to maintain the highest population growth rates as a buffer against any losses to poaching, and boost the national black rhino metapopulation.

In 2009, four of the last seven remaining northern white rhinos were translocated from a zoo in the Czech Republic to specially-built enclosures at OPC, in the hope that natural conditions would encourage them to breed. This high profile translocation captured significant international interest and mating has since been observed – confirming that the natural conditions are resulting in a resumption of reproductive cycles.

Tackling poaching threats

With support from FFI and other organisations, wildlife security at OPC has been stepped up over recent years in response to escalating rhino poaching across East Africa. The Conservancy has a response unit of well armed and highly trained Kenya Police Reserve rangers with the power to arrest poachers. In 2013, OLPC teamed up with Unmanned Innovation Inc. to create unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) that can observe and monitor wildlife and potential threats remotely.

In the same year, OPC developed an anti-poaching dog unit and in 2014 trained ‘multi-role’ dogs in partnership with White Paw Training. The dog unit has already had success in responding to attacks, and trained dogs with handlers will be moving into new areas of the northern rangelands, including Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

Thanks to security improvements, rhino populations within OPC continue to grow and in 2013 the conservancy’s black rhino population reached 100 animals, a ‘Key 1’ population, being the highest category of continental importance. In addition, the relocation of two male Southern white rhinos is now providing opportunities for the existing population of eleven animals (which includes one mature male) to grow further.

Conserving other species

The Conservancy is also supporting breeding of other endangered species (including the Northern white rhinos, Grevy’s zebra and Jackson’s hartebeest) within its core protected enclosures. Since 2011 there have been six Grevy’s zebra births and eight Jackson’s hartebeest births to animals protected in the enclosure.

In addition, OPC is now partnering with a range of research institution studies including one that has established a network of camera traps and one studying Endangered Rüpell’s vultures.

The Conservancy supports breeding of a number of endangered species, such as Grevy’s zebra. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

Supporting sustainable development

OPC’s conservation achievements have been possible thanks to its novel business model that combines wildlife conservation, livestock grazing, eco-tourism and community outreach.

All types of protected areas impact the communities who live around them. Communities benefit in various different ways but may also face significant costs. These impacts, which are generally known as social impact, manifest differently. They include benefits and costs that directly affect people’s livelihoods (e.g. income from employment, support for local schools and clinics, and crop damage by wildlife) as well as indirect benefits (e.g. improved security and roads, and in some places better water supplies, and more rainfall).

Getting a full picture of the social impact of a protected area such as Ol Pejeta is not an easy task. However, with the help of a new international programme called the Social Assessment of Protected Areas (SAPA) Initiative, Ol Pejeta is doing this through the course of 2014.

The SAPA Initiative is supported by a group of international environmental and development organisations including the International Institute for Environment and Development (iied) and FFI. This process will enable Ol Pejeta to reach poorer people and get the best out of its social impact, achieving more in its role as an engine for development in this part of Laikipia County.

A greenhouse and drip-kit supplied to a local school by OPC. Credit: Rob Small/FFI.

Currently working with 18 communities that surround OPC, the Community Development Programme supports a wide variety of projects, including support for schools and bursaries, health centres, water provision and sustainable agriculture. It also runs a dynamic conservation education programme with upwards of 20,000 schoolchildren experiencing wildlife, often for the first time.

Since 2004 the Conservancy has raised and dispersed over US $4 million on community development programmes.

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Kristi Foster

Kristi is a recent addition to the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Communications team, on a one-year assignment as Communications Officer (Business & Biodiversity). With a BSc in Earth Science, she has experience in geological surveys in western Canada and biodiversity surveys in the forests of Chiapas, Mexico. Most recently she worked as a consultant for the World Agroforestry Centre, where she communicated climate change research to a broad audience, including at the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC. In her current role, she supports FFI’s Business & Biodiversity and Environmental Markets programmes to communicate work that bridges business, economics and conservation.

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