Kenya: Borana Conservancy
Borana, a wildlife conservancy with two vibrant high-end tourist facilities has been identified in the National Strategy for black rhino as a possible habitat, suitable for the introduction and protection of rhino.
Ecological studies have been done by the KWS that suggest that the habitat is highly suitable, and with its existing security and conservation related infrastructure, as well as its stable commercial revenue generation, it is anticipated that Borana will be able to reintroduce Rhino in the very near future.
Borana Conservancy was a founder member of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum, and as such has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in the region. In order to meet the objective of providing crucial conservation management and habitat, restocking of various wildlife species that occurred in the area but had become locally extinct by 1994 (most notably black rhino Diceros bicornis) is a vital progression.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) national strategy for black rhino aims to achieve a population of 700 by 2011 as a step in the process of achieving a long-term viable population of 2,000 black rhino. While this goal relies upon the securement of many large unfenced habitats, small privately owned fenced conservancies will have to play a large role in providing habitat if this goal is to be reached.
Borana is a pioneer member of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum. Originally a cattle ranch, it was established as a wildlife conservancy in 1993 with the completion of one of Kenya’s first eco-lodges. It neighbours the world famous Lewa Downs Conservancy, which has led the way in rhino conservation in Kenya for the last 15 years. Lewa’s efforts have been so successful that they are close to exceeding their carrying capacity and are desperate for more habitat. Subordinate males are having a difficult time as they desperately try and establish territories in the wonderfully saturated eco-system.
Because of these happenings, in recent months, the fenced gap between Borana and Lewa, which leads through the Ngare Ndare forest, has seen the wanderings of rhino back and forth between the two conservancies. One particularly infamous visitor is the black rhino ‘Sparta’, who has been hosted by Borana on two occasions now and stayed for a total of a month. Normally this sort of behaviour would be cause for widespread alarm between the two conservancies but instead Borana is opening its doors (well, fences) to help Lewa increase the available rhino habitat. It has long been the plan to open the fence between Lewa and Borana, and the pressure created by the rhinos seems to be speeding up the process of developing one huge uninterrupted ecosystem
The establishment of anti-poaching systems based upon the concept of maximizing the risk for the poachers and minimizing the reward. Similarly the concept relies upon keeping Borana’s rhino population away from threats as well as keeping threats away from the rhino. Borana intends to create an “Intensive protection Zone” (IPZ) within its fenced area and beyond. In order to do this it will make use of its security teams (divided into specialised groups – Rhino Monitorers, Fence security, Rapid Reaction (armed) Teams, as well as utilizing its Guides, herdsmen and Horse grooms, by integrating them fully in the monitoring of rhino.
Whilst undertaking rhino conservation is exciting news for Borana, it comes with huge responsibility. Poaching is on the rise in Kenya, and the logistics, organisation and money required to protect these animals is daunting to say the least. However, what we have come to learn is that when it comes to rhino conservation, everyone is in it together. The help, advice and support we are receiving, not least from Save the Rhino, is astounding.
Credit: Borana Conservancy
With this help, we have been able to send our top men to the KWS training school in Manyani. Eight members of the Borana security team were selected to go to Manyani to take part in a two-month intensive game ranger wildlife and security course. The course involved aspects of tracking, drill, discipline and wildlife knowledge as well as basic paramilitary techniques and left the team itching for Borana’s rhino to arrive. Save the Rhino’s kind donation is also helping us to invest heavily in more training and more equipment, so that we will be prepared for the immense challenges that lie ahead.
In 480 BC, Sparta was defended by 300 men against tens of thousands of invading Persians at Thermopylae. Borana now has joined the war to protect rhino. We hope to be protecting our ‘Sparta’ (and friends) with perhaps even fewer men, but certainly no less endeavour!
(A version of this article originally appeared in The Horn, Spring 2011. Author: Sam Taylor, Chief Conservation Officer, Borana Conservancy)
Save the Rhino International would particularly like to thank Ian Anderson, who made a donation of £7,000 in 2011 to help Borana to buy GPS Motorola radios.
All photos credited to Bush and Beyond unless otherwise noted.