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Ready for rhinos: Il Ngwesi’s rangers get new digs

From an over-grazed, over-poached, and overused landscape to one of the most successful community-owned conservancies in Africa, Il Ngwesi has become an award-winning symbol of conservation success in just two decades. Integrating the needs of wildlife with the needs of up to 7,000 Il Laikipiak Masai, ‘the people of wildlife’, the Conservancy itself proves what can be achieved when the needs of both local communities and wildlife are prioritised in tandem with one another.

In 1996, elders from the community were approached to set aside more than 8,500ha of grazing land for wildlife. A luxury, yet discrete, eco-lodge – owned and operated exclusively by the community – was to be constructed on one of the hillsides. With livestock grazing under control and anti-poaching teams employed in the core area, the landscape of Il Ngwesi began to quickly recover. Booming herds of elephants returned once more alongside groups of reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and Grévy’s zebra. Some, such as the waterbuck, needed an additional nudge through translocation to come back but, today, Il Ngwesi has an almost intact community of wildlife, including a pack of Endangered African wild dogs that frequents it. The resulting revenue from tourism has funded the community’s development including the construction of a medical clinic, clean water systems, and school support for students. Such tangible benefits have now made the local community willing to share intelligence about poaching issues in the area, resulting in reduced elephant and bushmeat poaching in the landscape.

But there is still something missing. Eastern black rhinos were wiped out from this area decades ago at the hands of poachers. Sadly, a hand-reared black rhino, Omni, brought to the Conservancy in 2002 from the neighbouring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, was killed for his horns during the peak of poaching a decade ago.

Two Southern white rhinos still make this their home, and, with security continually being improved, the Conservancy has now reached the stringent criteria required to become a guardian once again for their Critically Endangered cousins. There are just a few more bits and pieces to do, one of which was the need to provide additional ranger accommodation.

Since its establishment, Il Ngwesi has employed a team of rangers to protect its wildlife and today is no different. Eighteen armed rangers, divided into several mobile teams comprised of three or four people each, form its anti-poaching unit. They participate in foot and aerial patrols and are deployed at headquarters and various observation posts for security.

However, accommodating this large team of rangers has been a challenge for the Conservancy. Ten single-bed houses had to be shared by the 18-strong team, in addition to two general rangers and one fence attendant, all sharing just one bathroom. Four new, modern accommodation blocks were needed, and the II Ngwesi Conservancy, therefore, requested funds from ForRangers to support the upgrades and construction process.

Contractors were hired and the first job involved transporting materials including hardcore, sand, ballast, bricks and timber to the construction site at HQ. With community involvement a key focus of Il Ngwesi, 10 young people, including two women, were up for the task and employed to transport building materials and clean the site pre- and post-construction.

Work itself finally began at the beginning of March 2022 and by April, the new accommodation was handed over to the Conservancy’s Security Warden, Tirimas Parkusaa. Parkusaa subsequently allocated the housing to the rangers and commented on the project:

“Thank you very much ForRangers for coming to our rescue. We are more than happy to get [a] new accommodation facility for us. Wishing ForRangers a bright future ahead. God bless.”

As the rangers have moved in, it has become apparent that their comfort has improved immensely since. The rangers are sleeping well in the less-crowded conditions, which offer better ventilation and far fewer visiting mosquitoes than before. Radios and phones can be charged easily, meaning that the rangers no longer need to travel to the tourist lodge to use its electricity. However, perhaps most importantly, the confidence of the team’s members has grown, and they no longer feel ashamed or shy away from their families and friends when they come to visit them in the workplace. Recent discussions amongst the team have revolved around just how this grant has truly transformed their working lives.

Here are some of their thoughts:

“Asante sana! ForRangers, you are truly our partner. I can now sleep well, go about my daily patrol knowing very well that I have a neat and beautiful house. I will work very hard to feed my family and children.”

Mpaapu Kawai, Constable Ranger

“Ashe Oleng! ForRangers, I can now personally sleep well without congestion. I like my new room with power. I can charge my phone and radio and have no need to go to the lodge to charge [them].”

Marpe Parkusaa, Constable Ranger

With Marpe, Mpaapu and the rest of their team able to get enough rest in comfort, their already hard-working ethic has improved even further. Patrol efforts, the collection of data and the number of wildlife sightings made at the Conservancy (despite an ongoing drought) have increased. With the motivation to protect them continuing to grow, it is only a matter of time before black rhinos are reintroduced to Il Ngwesi’s proposed Black Rhino Sanctuary. Several community engagements have already been held and the members are slowly accepting the idea of rhinos on this landscape.

Thanks in part to fundraisers and donors such as you, the team will be ready to protect its new, precious arrivals for years to come.


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