In this blog I often talk about our work with the Aweer indigenous community in Lamu County, but we also support farming communities in the neighbouring Garissa County, in an area known as Ijara. These groups have many things in common, but there are a few important differences too.
This month in Ijara we’ve been working closely with the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, which was set up by Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and the local community in 2007. Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy is pretty unique because – as the name suggests – this is where we find hirola antelope.
This beautiful antelope is unique to north-east Kenya and south-west Somalia. Sadly very few of them remain – it’s often referred to as Africa’s most endangered antelope. The species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and it’s estimated that population numbers have fallen by 85-90% since 1980. Everyone, including the local community, is concerned. “It was common to see hirola everywhere here, many years back, but not anymore”, a local elder told me.
The species has been legally protected from hunting in Kenya since 1971 and in Somalia since 1977 but enforcement is poor and poaching still happens. Disease is also likely to have played a big role in the species’ decline – with much of the decrease in population happening at the same time as a major epidemic of a viral infection called rinderpest affected domestic livestock in the region. Things like competition with domestic livestock for grazing and water; loss of habitat, often linked to the decline of elephants in the area; and severe drought are also likely to have had an impact.
Over the last few years, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has led a group of partners working towards improving the conservation of the hirola. And now we’re joining the effort too!
NRT and others’ work to date has included setting up a ‘predator-free sanctuary’, where a sub-section of the hirola population has been moved into for better protection and breeding. Outside of the sanctuary, better planned grazing is also being developed to reduce the competition with livestock for food and water. The success of the sanctuary is largely down to the support of the local community, through the conservancy structure.
Building on work we’ve been doing for some time with the AWER Community Conservancy, we’ve run a week of training for the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy Board. Before that, we also supported the Board to self-assess its own skills and capacity and that helped to shape the training that we’ve been providing over the last few days.
We’ve looked at a wide range of topics from governance, advocacy and financial planning and management to gender inclusivity, monitoring and evaluation and conflict resolution. We also welcomed representatives of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and local administration officers to the training so that they had the opportunity to benefit too.
With the training drawing to a close, we leave this place with the belief that the Board now has a greater understanding of its roles and responsibilities to both to the community and to wildlife. Their leadership has been strengthened and they have better skills to deal with emerging conflicts related to how natural resources are managed.
Our hope is that, with our and our partners’ continued support, this newly strengthened management will steer the community’s conservation agenda in a positive direction, securing a future for the hirola antelope and ensuring harmony between people and wildlife.
WWF’s work in Boni-Dodori is supported by Size of Wales and the UK Government through the Darwin Initiative and the Department for International Development.