CRIME SCENE: MARA CONSERVANCIES’ RANGERS’ TRAINING

 

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahtama Gandhi

Kenya has made significant strides to ensure that perpetrators of wildlife crimes in the country are met with tough, harsh penalties as laid down in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 (WCMA).

The legislation which came into force in January 2014 put the threshold of evidence admissible in a court of law high considering the marching penalties. The need to effectively prosecute cases of animals poaching, trophy trade and trafficking continues as offenders continue to engage in unlawful activities and trade.

Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) in partnership with the USAID PREPARED Program trained 159 rangers drawn from 12 conservancies in the Greater Mara Ecosystem on how to use  the WILD App to collect data on wildlife sightings, illegal activities, conduct patrols and report findings on a daily basis. MMWCA recognizes that first responders to wildlife crime mostly from local communities, are rangers or people with inadequate capacity to handle scene of crimes without distorting evidence.

“The training will help equip rangers with necessary skills needed to effectively collect evidence that can be used to link offenders, prosecute and punish those found culpable of wildlife crimes. These are geared towards comprehensive protection of Kenya’s national heritage.” Notes Stephen Kisotu – Technical Manager, MMWCA.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in collaboration with Space for Giants and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) have come together to increase the number of specialized prosecutors to 14 from the current two.‎

Several shortcomings identified by the MMWCA have become apparent to the manner first responders handle their law enforcement mandate. These include:

–     Contamination of evidence due to poor handling and preservation.

–     Unpreparedness of the first responders in courts of Law.

–     Limited knowledge of the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013

–     Lack of Crime Scene Management Skills

–     Drafting of defective charges

–     Lack of knowledge on DNA Analysis and its role in investigation to prosecution

Way Forward?

MMWCA in partnership with AFEW have embarked on a project “Building capacity of community conservancies’ rangers’ for effective management of wildlife crime scenes in the Greater Maasai Mara Ecosystem, Narok County Kenya.” The project hopes to train wildlife rangers drawn from the established 14 conservancies on crime scene management and preservation of evidence admissible in a court of law.

Poachers have gone to great lengths to hire best legal expertise available in a bid to defeat criminal liability. Defenders of wildlife have one option, to go higher and come out strongly and one of these ways will be to take forensic science seriously and build capacity across board to deter wildlife offenders.

Follow the training online: Twitter @contactMMWCA, Facebook @MaraConservancies, and www.maraconservancies.org

MMWCA PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE NEW CEO

Introducing our new CEO; Daniel Ole Sopia

The Executive Board of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) has made a change to the leadership team at MMWCA Secretariat. Daniel Ole Sopia has been appointed CEO of MMWCA effective 1st October 2017. Daniel will be responsible for leading MMWCA to the next level, building on the solid foundation and momentum achieved by the MMWCA team.

Daniel has vast experience in conservation, establishment of conservancies and in-depth knowledge of community engagement especially in the Mara and tourism in Kenya. He has done a remarkable job with MMWCA’s formation, firstly as the Chairperson of the Conservancies Council prior to joining the Secretariat as Chief Programs Officer.  Now that the critical formation phase of both MMWCA and Conservancies is nearly complete, he will be moving on to work on strengthening the legal and leadership governance of the conservancies, sustainable revenue generating streams and increasing value for land under conservation.

We would like to thank Daniel for the significant contribution he’s made in setting the right tone, energy and structure at MMWCA, and for being a key driver in strengthening conservancies’ management and coordination of key stakeholders in the Greater Mara Ecosystem over the past couple of years.

We would like to welcome Daniel as he takes the helm as CEO of MMWCA. He will be responsible for working with the team to deliver on the plans we have been discussing over the past several years – to conserve the Greater Maasai Mara Ecosystem through a network of protected areas, for the prosperity of all – biodiversity and wildlife, the local population, and recreation and tourism for the nation of Kenya.

Daniel is an accomplished leader in conservation, with a track record of working with local communities to protect Kenya’s diverse ecosystems. He brings a great mix of leadership, inspiration, and passion for conservation. He serves on the Board of Greater Mara Trust/Greater Mara Management Limited as well as the Board of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association representing the Maasai Mara region. Daniel is a Silver-rated Professional Tour Guide who left active tour guiding to help set up Olare Motorogi Community Conservancy Trust in Maasai Mara.  He co-steered Olare Motorogi Conservancy as a Director from 2006 to 2008, a Trustee and as a Community Development Manager until 2013. He has also served in the capacities of Board Member for Olare Motorogi Conservancy and Vice Chair of Olpurkel Company Limited, the Management Company managing the Olare Motorogi conservancy. Congratulations Daniel. We are indeed honoured to find someone that has such a perfect set of skills for this opportunity.

Finally, we would like to thank our partners for continued support as we charge ahead to ensuring the Maasai Mara is a cultural landscape where communities and partners secure wildlife and sustainable livelihoods for a better future.

 

Mara Conservancies Embrace Technology to Protect Wildlife

The Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) has in partnership with USAID, rolled out the use of the Wildlife Information and Landscape Database (WILD) App that will strengthen existing wildlife anti-poaching and human wildlife conflict (HWC) deterrent efforts in eleven conservancies in Maasai Mara.

The mobile phone data collection application and cloud-based database developed by @iLabAfica, Strathmore University is designed to improve collection, sharing, management and analysis of biodiversity information and data of endangered wildlife such as Elephants and Rhinos which are facing threats due to the increased poaching activities.

In January 2014, in response to President Barrack Obama’s Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, USAID’s Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy, Adaptation, Research, and Economic Development (PREPARED) Project established a partnership with key governmental, non-governmental conservation organization and private sector stakeholders in Kenya and Tanzania to discuss how Information and Communications Technology could be used to improve the fight against poaching in East Africa. The goal was to develop innovative tools that help prevent poaching and HWC, and improve monitoring, coordination, and analysis of anti-poaching and HWC deterrent efforts.

In the partnership with USAID PREPARED Project, MMWCA has trained 11 conservancy managers, 104 rangers on the use of the WILD application. A total of 53 ranger teams covering 11 conservancies have been equipped with a Smartphone installed with the WILD application for data collection during their patrols. Conservancy managers have access to the backend of the application to monitor data collection by their respective ranger teams. Additionally, a data manager has been enlisted to help conservancies collect, analyse, store and apply the data to their daily operations.

The WILD application tracks a patrol unit’s movement using global-positioning software (GPS) using the Smartphone. While on patrol, rangers can record information on incidences that occur, such as poaching, animal mortality, human wildlife conflict, illegal human activity, community service, wildlife sightings, climate data and others.

The information captured in WILD is stored in a secure online database that allows administrators to access and analyse information collected by their rangers, and use this information to support evidence-based management decisions, such as re-organizing patrol routes to cover areas with higher incidents of poaching or HWC. WILD can also be used to track the progress and outcomes of counter wildlife trafficking legal cases that the organization is supporting.

Administrators can view reported incidences geo-spatially by patrol unit, time period or incident type. Administers can link related incidences that occur over a longer time period; for example, linking a crop-raiding incident with a retaliatory killing that may have happened several days later.

Rangers like James Ekiru, Senior Warden of the Mara Elephant Project (MEP) are excited about the use of technology in their work. Ekiru is responsible for coordinating a team of community rangers entrusted with protecting and saving elephants in community conservancies of the greater Maasai Mara region.

For Ekiru, data collection and analysis – critical to the success of his work – has remained the main challenge over his conservation career spanning four decades. “Since I started working as a ranger in 1973, the most cumbersome part of my job was the task of collecting data on paper sheets, filing it in cabinets and retrieving it when needed,” says Ekiru.

Ekiru and his team helped with the development of the WILD application over a period of three years by testing out its applicability. “I now have another weapon in my armory. This WILD application is making our work easy and effective. You do not have to carry pens and notebooks to document what you see, “states Ekiru who particularly likes panic button on the application, which “once you click, it sends a distress signal for immediate response.”

Eriku lauds the involvement of conservancies and rangers in the development of the WILD application. “We have tested it and we like it, especially the choice to use Kiswahili for those not conversant with English and using of icons for an illiterate ranger.”

Maasai Mara Elephant Population Increases Significantly

A recent census has revealed a 72 per cent increase in the number of elephants within the Maasai Mara Conservancy and the Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystems.

According to an aerial count by the Kenya Wildlife Service, there were 2,493 elephants at the Maasai Mara ecosystem compared to 1,448 recorded in 2014.

Releasing the results at the KWS Headquarters, Director General, Kitili Mbathi attributed the increase in the population to stiff penalties on poaching, increase of rangers and equipment.

“Over the past three years we have seen a serious decline in the level of poaching of elephants and rhinos and this has come about through three major factors, that includes additional rangers who are well trained, equipped and boost of the intelligence unit.”

The survey also captured that as much there is increase in the population of the elephant, human activities within and around the protected areas are gradually on the rise.

“Incidents of charcoal burning are on the rise, as well as the number of livestock in the ecosystem, both of which pose a threat to wildlife and their habitat,” Mbathi said.

An aerial count of elephants was also carried out in the Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem that includes: Tsavo East, Tsavo West, Chyulu and Mkomazi National parks as well as South Kitui National reserve, while the adjoining neighbourhoods include Taita, Kulalu and Galana Ranches.

During the census, a total of 12,866 elephants were counted, 12,843 in Tsavo eco system and 23 in Mkomazi national park.

Overall, the elephant population in Tsavo-Mkomazi ecosystem increased by 14.7pc over the last three years (2014-2017), representing an annual increase of 4.9pc over the period.

“The increase is notable, but as KWS there are plans to carry out further investigations on elephant poaching threat levels in Galana Ranch and Tsavo East national park northern side where a high carcass ratio was found with a view of taking corrective measures,” stated Mbathi.

Captured in the survey was the population of buffaloes and giraffes with both ecosystems recording an increase in their population.

KWS sought to look into the impact of the Standard Gauge Railway since being operational, and established that there is need to boost the electric fence along the railway line to avoid its destruction by elephants.

While referring to an incident where a section of the Tsavo East conservation fence was destroyed, Mbathi said the barrier as it is currently designed does not provide adequate power to prevent the elephants from crossing over.

“Along the SGR route there is an electric fence and some sections were not adequately electrified. We are working with Kenya railways to ensure that remedial measures are in place so the elephants will not be in a position to break the fence,” said the Director General.

He noted that they are observing animal behaviours in regard to the operations of the SGR line within national parks and reserves.

Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Assistant Director Shadrack Ngene said a few elephants have been collared to monitor their movements and if they are making use of the underpasses constructed to facilitate their migration.

“The collared elephants will help us understand the maximum utilization of underpasses that have been put up to facilitate their movement,” said Ngene, “But for now the elephants are using the underpasses effectively.”

 

Father of 30 sons banking on conservancy to protect land for his lineage

The Maasai have a deep connection to their land and livestock; whether because, as Samau Ole Soit points out, for grazing cattle which provide their staple food -milk and meat or for cultural values and prestige amongst folks.

For these reasons, Ole Soit and his sons have for years kept hundreds heads of cattle on his 150 acre plot in Pardamat area of the Maasai Mara. “We have drastically reduced the number of livestock in the recent past,” states Ole Soit who explains that “grazing areas have shrunk and almost everyone has fenced their plots because there is less grass due to longer dry spells in recent years.”

Ole Soit regrets the fencing practise mainly meant to preserve grass for livestock and exclude wildlife is now threatening not just his livestock but contributing to increase in conflict with wildlife. “I used USD 3,000 to fence a 30 acre section of my land so that I have sufficient grass all year round for my cattle. Often, the fence is destroyed by Zebras and Giraffes trying to access the enclosed area while Elephants have been trapped posing danger to my grandchildren who herd my cattle. I have also found Gazelles and Wildebeests strangled to death. Over the last 2 years, we have repaired the fence on almost a daily basis using approximately USD 1,000”, narrates Ole Soit.

Confronted by challenges of dwindling prospects from livestock keeping, unpredictable weather patterns and increased human wildlife conflict, Ole Soit says he considered an initiative to establish a conservation area in Pardamat, a timely reprieve. “I unreservedly supported the idea when we were requested to consider leasing our land to establish a conservation area,” says Ole Soit, referring to a meeting convened by Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA), where he was among the 58 land owners that signed land leases. Jointly the land owners dedicated 5,000 acres which will see critical wildlife corridors opened, while they have a guaranteed a monthly income from their land leases.

The Pardamat Conservation Area now under formation with the support of USAID Kenya & East Africa, is premised on a conservation model that allows for mixed land use which prohibits cultivation of the land but only allows settlement and grazing by pastoralists. It also prohibits building of fences so as to allow pastoralists and wild animals move freely within the conservancy area. “If you are serious about keeping land in wildlife conservation and preserving the Maasai pastoral life, you have to be serious about keeping people involved in both,” asserts Ole Soit.

Conservationists have raised concerns over fencing of private land in Maasai Mara, saying it has interfered with wildlife corridors.  A recent research by means of a mapped series of multispectral satellite imagery (1985–2016), found that in the conservancies with the most fences, a real cover of fenced areas has increased with more than 20% since 2010. This has resulted in a situation where fencing is rapidly increasing across the Greater Mara, threatening to lead to the collapse of the entire ecosystem in the near future. Further, the research –Fencing bodes a rapid collapse of the unique Greater Mara ecosystem- suggest that fencing is currently instantiating itself as a new permanent self-reinforcing process and is about to reach a critical point after which it is likely to amplify at an even quicker pace, incompatible with the region’s role in the great wildebeest migration, wildlife generally, as well as traditional Maasai pastoralism.

In order to curb this trend, MMWCA is engaging conservancies and local communities to ensure that they don’t fence off their land and as well working with land owners to see conservation as a viable form of land use.  Supporting Mara conservancies to come up with management plans is one of the approaches MMWCA is using to curb the trend.

Pardamat is one of the conservancies MMWCA is working hard to set up and help formulate a management plan with the prospect of a properly organized area for wildlife conservation, people and livestock, exciting Ole Soit who says his motivation to support the establishment of Pardamat Conservation Area is beyond the present challenges that he attributes to fencing. He declares: “One of the most important, challenging, and rewarding things that we can do as the current generation of Maasai elders is to help secure land for the next generation. Whether you own or have inherited a piece of land you have a world of options available to choose from including selling but protecting it for your children is the best option.”

He explains that he informed and discussed with his family the option of leasing land for wildlife conservation instead of fragmenting it into smaller plots for his 30 sons. “I believe my land will remain suitable for my family and our pastoral lifestyle if we don’t fragment and fence it,” states Ole Soit who is glad all his sons supported the idea of leasing their land.

 

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