Located on a 15,381-acre stretch of the Laikipia Plateau, between Mt Kenya and the Aberdare Range, El Karama is home to many incredible wildlife species. In addition to the lions and hyenas, ‘Endangered’ African bush elephants, Grévy’s zebras, African hunting dogs and reticulated giraffe are among the more than 80 mammalian species that can be seen here. The Conservancy’s rangers are key to protecting and supporting the landscape, wildlife, and people that depend on El Karama.
“My rangers are very happy with the project. It has really boosted our morale. We are able to stay there comfortably, which saves a lot of time and logistics. We are looking forward to having similar bases at the other ranch gates in the future so that we can easily patrol all areas day or night.”
Hamman Wario, Head of Security at the El Karama Wildlife Conservancy
This was Hamman’s reaction, following the completion of a new Northern Security Base along El Karama’s boundary. Before this much-needed ForRangers-funded upgrade took place, the Base was a hazardous arrangement of corrugated iron sheets. Originally, it was intended to be a temporary structure, but it ended up in place for many years. Rust, rodents, and razor-sharp edges greeted rangers when they came to stay here, manning a key location at El Karama’s Northern entrance. Despite the conditions, dedicated rangers continued to carry out their work, remaining in their central role as protectors of El Karama’s inhabitants.
The old security base at the Northern entrance. Credit: Save the Rhino International.
Much like other conservancies in Laikipia, crop farming is not viable at El Karama given the rainfall patterns, and so rearing livestock is a key revenue source. Whilst this is often seen as incompatible with wildlife conservation, El Karama has proven that successful pastoralism can be possible in a landscape where marauding predators thrive.
From early morning to mid-afternoon, livestock are herded onto the Conservancy by stockmen who lead their herds from the front, thereby discouraging predators. In fact, livestock predation at El Karama is low and, during the last few years, the Conservancy has seen its populations of carnivores such as lions and spotted hyenas flourish, despite their populations plummeting elsewhere.
With two hardy cattle breeds (Sahiwals and Fleckvieh) well-suited to the dry, arid environment, El Karama uses a sustainable and adaptable approach known as holistic grazing. Taking into consideration the interactions between the livestock and the fragile landscape, cattle are strategically moved to reduce the chances of overgrazing. This helps to maintain the health of the soils and vegetation, whilst providing the cattle with sufficient fodder to produce many litres of milk every day, creating an income for local employees and businesses.
However, this relationship is not entirely harmonious. Stockmen and herders are still exposed to attack from buffalo, lion and elephant. Additionally, with wildlife often near livestock, mitigating the risk of disease transmission is a concern. East Coast Fever and babesia (tick-borne malaria-like parasites that are present in local species such as buffalo) can be dangerous if untreated. Of greater concern, other wildlife-carrying diseases can lead to serious complications in humans if milk from an infected cow is drunk. Preventing these issues not only involves careful livestock management, but also vigilance from the stockmen with constant support from the Conservancy’s rangers. In collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service, El Karama provides training courses for its rangers about wildlife behaviour. The training empowers rangers to make informed decisions about the best ways to deal with wild animals when they are in proximity to domestic stock, helping to alleviate the risks to people, wildlife and livestock.
Today, El Karama faces the challenge of a lack of pasture, caused by overcrowding of wildlife such as zebra and gerenuk in the few areas available to them. The worst drought in decades has exacerbated this, with the continued failure of sufficient rains causing many herbivores to starve. Elephants are thin and the once 600-strong herd of buffalo has been reduced to a meagre 100 individuals. Rangers face further difficulties, preventing illegal incursions and helping to move any weak animals out of the neighbouring Endana community, where their vulnerable condition makes them especially unpredictable.
With so much on the line, it became increasingly apparent that El Karama's rangers needed a more suitable, comfortable base from which to carry out their operations. Local builders were employed from the Endana community to construct the Base using locally-sourced materials such as compacted earth blocks, which provide a colour scheme that blends seamlessly with the surrounding bush.
The new security base at the Northern entrance.
The building’s other features include:
Bedrooms at 120sq/ft each, with concrete ceilings and a corrugated iron roof to maintain comfortable temperatures
A 200sq/ft kitchen space, complete with an internal fireplace for cooking and warmth
A communications mast for telephone and Wi-Fi signal
An external long-drop toilet with tap
40-litre water-storage capacity for rain-water collection to supply rangers for a year
Secure metal doors, ventilation points and steel and glass windows
The Base will accommodate those patrolling the Conservancy’s Northern section, as well as those manning the Base itself (a necessity given its proximity to a public road). It will also give rangers a safe and comfortable place to rest and stay overnight. Not only does this provide rangers with the accommodation they deserve, but it is hoped that this will also increase patrol efficiency and reduce response times to incidents in the Northern area.
Construction was completed by the end of February 2023, and the ranger teams are enjoying the improved space, comfort, hygiene, and importantly, lack of rodents!
The whole team at El Karama is immensely grateful for the support provided by ForRangers’ fund-raisers. Naturally, there is more work to be done to provide more support for the dedicated rangers. But, the future looks bright, and the striking changes seen at the Northern entrance demonstrate just how far your contributions can go.