'with butterflies and warriors'
Project info

'with butterflies and warriors'

The Samburu live in the northern highlands of Kenya: they are one of the country’s largest land occupiers and yet number less than ten thousand in a country of tens of millions. Their lands were never a part of the white highlands previously inhabited by European settlers and ranchers. They lay in the remote and much more arid Northern Frontier for which a special travel document was required, a requirement that extended for a few years even after Kenya attained its independent status. Samburuland remains remote and unspoilt. The Samburu saw no value in having wildlife on their lands because they believed it belonged to the government and was therefore of no benefit to them; cattle were allowed to graze everywhere, the grasslands were seriously degraded, and trees cut down for firewood. They strived to survive off the products of their herds of cows, goats, and for some camels. However, the combination of a significant growth in population and a decline in their cattle holdings forced them to seek other supplementary forms of livelihood. Some attempted to grow crops, whilst many young men migrated for at least short periods to cities to seek work. Many sought work in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, as watchmen. The Samburu have an ancient connection to elephant, they require elephant dung to marry and consider them sacred. Any Samburu that kills an elephant brings ‘alanna’, a curse upon his family, despite this, with the incredible amount of money being offered some Samburu Moran (warriors) are now becoming active poachers on lands where the elephant would have previously been protected.

What future for wildlife in northern Kenya ?

The poaching of wildlife in northern Kenya is well documented and should not be underplayed, however, what remains largely unseen is the important part that local communities play in conserving and protecting the wildlife that they live alongside. If it is to survive at all, wildlife in northern Kenya will require support and engagement from local communities with which it shares land, thus allowing its safe passage along centuries old migration routes across tribal lands. This is particularly important for species such as Grevy's zebra, and elephant, who have large home ranges and require access to large tracts of land. Ensuring their well-being requires mobile units of multi-ethnic rangers who can respond quickly and effectively to any given situation, not just poaching, without fear of tribal conflict. The majority of Kenya's wildlife exists outside the network of national parks and reserves, predominantly in private and community conservancies, and on community land. Most of the northern rangelands are community owned and still host abundant wildlife, although most local people accrue no benefit from the wildlife with which they share their land, and until now have seen no value in protecting it, particularly at the expense of livestock. Indeed those communities with land suitable for conservation have until recently had no access to the expertise, resources, or the donor agencies that are required to develop community-based conservation. Now under the stewardship of the Northern Rangelands Trust communities in northern Kenya have come together as a collective and are starting to see the benefits from the dual use of wildlife and livestock. In these remote area’s wildlife can be used alongside livestock to spread financial risk, reduce vulnerability to droughts, and increase food security and generate the capital needed to help communities improve their welfare and bring peace, thus giving them a clear financial stake in preserving wildlife, rather than killing it. The incentive is now to protect rather than kill, and in many area’s an enemy of the wildlife is now considered an enemy of the people. In addition, as a result of the increased security for both people and wildlife, the safari industry, a pillar of the Kenyan economy, generating more than a billion dollars a year, is also beginning to return tourists to an area most would have previously feared to tread. However, with the incredible amount of money being offered to those who do poach, this fragile peace and security hangs in the balance as these communities are also on the front line of the current poaching war which threatens to undermine all their recent successes.