ACC’s work is focused primarily in four areas: the landscapes of Amboseli, Maasai Mara, Mukogodo and South Rift. These areas span the richest region of vertebrate diversity in Africa and include over a third of all Kenya’s wildlife. ACC has established wildlife associations, land trusts, wildlife sanctuaries, ecotourism lodges and community associations in its efforts to conserve biodiversity, enhance livelihoods and promote learning exchanges.
The Amboseli landscape covers an area of approximately 5,700 Km² stretching between Mt. Kilimanjaro, Chyulu Hills, Tsavo West National Park and the Kenya/Tanzania border.
The area is generally arid to semi-arid with a very small variation in its agro-ecological zones and is more suitable for pastoralism rather than cultivation with a high potential for conservation of wildlife and tourism enterprises. Administratively, the Amboseli ecosystem consists of Amboseli National Park and the surrounding six group ranches. The six group ranches namely: Kimana,/Tikondo, Kuku, Olgulului/Olalarrashi, Imbirikani, Kuku, and Eselenkei cover an area of about 506,329 hectares in Loitokitok district. It also includes the former 48 individual ranches located at the foot slope of Kilimanjaro that are now under crop production, mainly rain-fed agriculture.
Where the Transrift typifies the arid and semi-arid lands making up 70% of Kenya, Amboseli typifies the problems facing national parks under government jurisdiction.
Kenya’s protected areas cover less than 8% of its land surface but account for over 70% of Kenya’s tourism income. Amboseli is one of Kenya’s premier parks both in terms of biodiversity conservation and tourist visitation. Therefore the problems and solutions in Amboseli are used for building national capacity and policies applicable to national parks and reserves, as well as local, NGO and tourism and wildlife industries around parks. Both pastoralists and wildlife share the same ecosystem and shadow each others movements through the season. The tightly bound ecology makes it impossible to set aside sufficient space for an ecologically viable national park without marginalizing pastoralists.
Recognizing this problem, ACC’s work over the years has focused on reconciling the interests of people and wildlife through an integrated ecosystem approach that maintain abundance and resilience of wildlife populations to the benefit of pastoral communities.
The Amboseli Research and Conservation Programme (ARCP) that established ACC has worked continuously in the area since 1967. During that time, ARCP and ACC laid the foundation for Kenya’s integrated ecosystem approach to parks and community-based conservation. The many innovations that developed out of ARCP/ACC research and conservation programs included revenue-sharing, wildlife associations, community wildlife sanctuaries, community scouts and ecotourism enterprises.
Despite these positive developments, many new threats common to parks throughout East Africa face Amboseli.
These include demographic and socio-economic transition, sedentarization and land fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict and inequitable distribution of wildlife income. These factors are at root of intensifying drought, growing conflict between wildlife, livestock and agriculture, and a rapid decline in biodiversity in the park.
ACC’s goal in Amboseli is to strengthen and support the practices, policies and institutions that maintain the productivity and ecological resilience of pastoral communities and savanna ecosystems while diversifying rangeland economies and providing new opportunities off the land.
To achieve this, ACC and other stakeholder have developed Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan 2008-2018 to address these conservation and livelihood challenges. The management plan aims at maintaining ecosystem integrity and enhancing the ecosystem’s benefits to the local community in view of increasing environmental threats facing the local community, their livestock and wildlife.
Maasai Mara National Reserve is the most important protected area in Kenya, accounting for 25% of Kenya’s wildlife and nearly three quarters of the protected area population.
As a national reserve, Mara falls under two county councils (Narok and Transmara), not central government jurisdiction. The problems and solutions for Maasai Mara therefore lie in the secondary level of governance. To solve these problems, ACC’s programs in Mara primarily address and strengthen district level governance involving local authorities.
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Over the last fifteen years, smallholdings and large commercial farms have steadily encroached on the Maasai Mara ecosystem.
Livestock numbers and nomadic as well as permanent settlements have also grown steadily. As a result wildlife numbers have decreased outside the national reserve and migratory pathways have been steadily encroached. Yet a further problem is the unregulated growth of tourist facilities, vehicular traffic and visitor disturbance of wildlife. These problems raised national and international concerns and led the government, the tour industry and KWS to call for control of developments in and outside Maasai Mara.
The upshot of this was an ACC steered process that led to the formation of the Maasai Mara Management Association (MMMA), a joint body comprised of the Narok County Council, KWS, provincial administration, the tour industry and local community and conservation organizations.
MMMA’s mandate is to oversee wildlife and development activities in the Mara ecosystem and develop land use and management plans to balance the conflicting interests. Despite several ups and downs, MMMA has become steadily more effective. A major achievement included a moratorium on tourism developments pending the development of a land use plan. ACC drew up the plan in collaboration with the key players and the local community. The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife has fully endorsed MMMA and asked ACC to coordinate its activities.
Mukogodo is in the North Eastern part of Laikipia district and is the traditional home of the Yaaku (also called Mukogodo Maasai) though over the last century other communities such British settlers, Maasai, Kikuyu, and Samburu have moved in.
This area is of particular interest to ACC for a number of reasons. It has ecological importance because it has an indigenous forest and rangelands, it is home to a small indigenous hunter/gatherer group whose livelihood depended on their forest resources, and therefore illustrates the pressures on both the ecology and an indigenous (now minority) group. Mukogodo as a landscape that is greatly influenced by what happens in the neighbouring Highlands of Central Kenya and the adjoining rangelands of Northern Kenya. ACC also sees Mukogodo as a frontier to the arid and semi-arid northern Kenya from where to start our programmes and activities.
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The Mukogodo landscape is well endowed with wildlife, which is mainly distributed in the semi arid lands that covers most parts of Laikipia district.
The high concentration of wildlife is in the large-scale ranches which covers 50% of the total area while the rest is found in the unsettled group ranches owned by the pastoral communities, and in the gazetted forests in Mukogodo, Rumuruti and Marmanet. The area is quite rich in terms of wildlife diversity that includes birds, big mammals, predators and even the aquatic biodiversity which occurs in the tributaries of / and a section of River Ewaso Ngiro North and the associated swamps. Laikipia plateau is also famous for providing the habitat for the endangered Gravy’s Zebra. Despite the rich wildlife resources and the great potential for ecotourism in this landscape, the wildlife habitat is increasingly becoming threatened by the expansion of human settlement.
Already the Mukogodo landscape has been isolated from its lager mountain landscapes of Mt Kenya and the Aberdare’s by human settlement.
This has in effect blocked the wildlife migratory corridors and caused the loss of wildlife and its habitat to give way to agricultural land. In the Mukogodo landscape, ACC focuses its activities in strengthening and supporting the practices, policies and institutions that maintain the productivity and ecological resilience of pastoral communities and savanna ecosystems while diversifying rangeland economies and providing new opportunities off the land.
The South Rift spans a wide elevation gradient and all but one of Kenya’s seven ecological zones.
It links two of Kenya most important parks, Maasai Mara National Park and Amboseli National Park. Unlike the parks, the South Rift is representative of the problems facing pastoral communities throughout the horn of Africa where wildlife and pastoral people share open rangelands. The growing conflict with wildlife over diminishing land and resources in the South Rift is typical of the rangelands. Therefore solutions emerging from the South Rift apply to communities and landowners throughout eastern Africa.