A Model for Wildlife Conservation
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is situated within an area considered to be semi-arid. Traditionally areas of this sort, being unsuitable for rain-fed agriculture, have been used for cattle ranching. As such, prior to the 1970’s, Ol Pejeta was a highly developed and very productive cattle ranch. It was fully paddocked with an extensive fencing and water supply system. Importantly, wildlife was not tolerated, seen as providing grazing and disease competition for cattle. During the 1970’s increasing human settlement to the south, increasing elephant poaching to the north and a ban on wildlife hunting caused elephant herds to begin taking up more permanent residence on Ol Pejeta and overall game numbers to increase. This resulted in all internal fences being lost (it is not possible to maintain normal ranch fencing in the presence of large elephant populations) and the livestock management system becoming similar to that used by pastoralists such as the Maasai – cattle were now herded to grazing during the day and kept in night enclosures, or “bomas” at night.
While burgeoning wildlife populations thus caused the cattle ranching activity to become less productive, it forced the Ol Pejeta management to find innovative ways of accommodating wildlife. For example pipelines now had to be buried and night guards posted on “bomas”. Over time, in response to increasing demand for wildlife tourism, management began to see wildlife as an asset to be utilized for financial gain.
The development of the Sweetwaters Game Reserve in the 1980s was management’s response. Initially cattle were excluded from the Sweetwaters Game Reserve principally because it was felt that their presence was incompatible with the presence of fee-paying visitors. However, we have to come realize that provided cattle are kept discreetly and in sustainable numbers, their presence is acceptable to visitors wishing to see wildlife – indeed we on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy are now finding that many of our visitors are so interested in the cattle operation that we organize “ranching tours”!
Furthermore new scientific evidence – much of it developed on Ol Pejeta – shows that cattle can be used as an “ecological tool” to manage the rangelands, maintaining heterogeneity and maximizing biodiversity. These findings are now gaining credence across East Africa with the result that other private conservancies and the state-run national parks are beginning to explore the idea of setting up their own managed livestock systems to improve wildlife “productivity” on their land. Thus Ol Pejeta runs an integrated wildlife/livestock operation that aims to maximize the productivity of the land while allowing us to be financially “self sustaining” in the first instance and make “profit” in the second.
By virtue of our company constitution, all “profit” must be reinvested into further wildlife conservation and community outreach and cannot be disbursed as a dividend or in the form of director’s benefits. The shareholders and Board of Ol Pejeta work in an entirely philanthropic and voluntary manner, and Ol Pejeta can be considered a “not-for-profit” organization. Financial “self-sustainability” does not preclude the development of donor funding; our community outreach programme and external conservation programmes have raised and disbursed over USD 1,000,000 in the last three years, reflecting our aim to become a real engine for development across the district now and in the future.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy model is increasingly recognized and used by donors as a means to achieve effective community and poverty alleviation – the Conservancy is engaged in a long-term manner with surrounding communities and wilderness areas, is able to identify opportunities for assistance and ensure proper and effective use of donated funds in a manner that is entirely accountable. In summary, over the next few years Ol Pejeta Conservancy will aim to develop as a financially self-sustaining and innovative model that achieves conservation in a manner that produces tangible social benefit at both a local and national level. We are well on course to achieving those aims.