Statement from Gamewatchers Safaris, 26th May 2017
Following media reports about severe drought in northern Kenya and recent incidents of violent insecurity in some parts of Laikipia county, we can confirm that the situation is as follows:
Firstly, the impact of the widespread East African drought is being felt hardest by those communities living in the remoter areas of Kenya along the north-eastern borders with Ethiopia and Somalia. Unlike some of the neighbouring countries to the north and in the horn of Africa, Kenya is not afflicted by a country-wide famine. The Kenya government, together with various international aid agencies, such as the UN and the Red Cross, is already involved in relief work in those remote border areas. These are not places visited by tourists and they are arid semi-desert areas with low rainfall at the best of times, unlike other parts of Kenya further to the south or to the west. However the pastoralist communities living in the rangelands of Samburu, Baringo, Isiolo and Laikipia were all badly affected by the lack of rainfall earlier in the year, which meant that they had virtually no grass left for their cattle, sheep and goats prior to the onset of the rains and consequently many of their animals died.
Away from the arid north eastern border region, and further to the south and west, Kenya has a vibrant, robust and economically important agricultural sector and produces and exports wheat, maize, meat products, vegetables, tea and coffee as well as other agricultural crops and products, so this is a very different overall situation from the worst affected countries neighbouring Kenya to the North. Drought tends to be very localised in Kenya and is always worse in the arid semi-desert regions along Kenya’s north-eastern borders. There has already been rainfall across Laikipia and in the Mara in recent weeks and much of the area has turned green as the grass and vegetation re-generates. Our Porini Camps were closed for the rainy season and re-open at the end of May. And within all the conservancies where our camps are located, there are permanent sources of water for wildlife at the waterholes, springs, swamps and rivers which support the teeming wildlife to be seen in these areas.
Secondly, with regard to recent incidents of insecurity in parts of Laikipia following incursions by armed herdsmen onto some private ranches, we should stress that this is very localised, confined to a few very specific places and the insecurity does not affect the wider Laikipia area or the rest of Kenya.
In the past there have often been clashes between different ethnic groups in the community areas within the neighbouring counties of Baringo, Isiolo and Samburu during periods of drought, when rival groups of pastoralist herders from communities such as the Pokot, Turkana and Samburu have had disagreements over access to grazing and watering points. Recently, several ranches on the edge of Laikipia county, adjacent to the counties of Isiolo and Baringo, have been invaded by armed herdsmen with large flocks of livestock and there have been instances of violence, with a number of local people being killed or injured and property damaged or looted. The worst affected ranches are Kifuku, Mugie, Ol Ari Nyiro, Ol Maisor, Sosian and Suyian as well as some of the lands owned by the Laikipiak Maasai community.
The recent killing of Tristan Voorspuy, a ranch owner and well-known safari operator specialising in horse riding safaris, on Sosian Ranch and the subsequent shooting of the famous conservationist Kuki Gallman at Ol Ari Nyiro Ranch have been widely reported in the international media. Kuki Gallman is internationally recognised for her conservation work and has also done much to uplift the lives of neighouring communities. She was rescued by members of the Kenya Wildlife Service and airlifted to safety by a helicopter from Tropic Air in Nanyuki, where she was initially given life-saving medical treatment by British Army medics stationed there as part of a training programme, before being flown to Nairobi for surgery and further hospital care. We deeply regret the brutal and wanton murder of Tristan who was a friend and a valued supporter of our own conservation mission at Ol Kinyei Conservancy in the Mara. We also condemn the brutal attack on Kuki, who has done so much to promote conservation and harmonious relations between neighbouring communities, and we pray for her speedy and full recovery.
The security problem and the ensuing violence unleashed on the affected ranches were triggered by the widespread drought across the counties adjoining Laikipia. This has resulted in a scarcity of grazing on the community lands for the huge herds of livestock much of which allegedly is owned by a few politically powerful individuals. Grazing of all the pastureland by these enormous herds has turned most of the community lands into a dustbowl on the rangelands adjacent to the north and west of Laikipia. This culminated in the livestock owners sending their herders into some of the lands owned by private ranchers, small-holder farmers and other Laikipia residents who have been virtually helpless to defend themselves against heavily armed lawless gangs of cattle herders. The crux of the problem according to local people is that some influential figures, who themselves own large herds of cattle, have incited and armed a number of youths from the Samburu and Pokot communities and made them believe that land in Lakipia is their birthright and that they can reclaim it by using cattle to take over ranches with the aim of driving out the legal owners and other communities residing there.
President Kenyatta has condemned the shooting of Kuki Gallmann and the violence suffered by residents in some parts of Laikipia as a result of incursions by armed groups coming in with livestock from outside the county. He has instructed the Kenya Police Inspector General to investigate the matter and to ensure that the culprits are brought to book. In a strong statement, the President also warned any local politicians against inciting members of pastoralist communities to invade private property or to attack individuals. The President recently ordered the deployment of the Kenya Defence Force to restore law and order to the places where violence has taken place. The former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Raila Odinga, has also spoken out to condemn the attack on Kuki Gallman and the violence inflicted on local residents in parts of Laikipia. He said, “Hooligans have taken advantage of the drought to subject these ranchers to unwarranted attacks. Kenya is not a failed state. We want to believe that we have a government and that we are still guided by the rule of law and that the government still sees the protection of life and property as its prime reason for existence.” He called upon the government immediately “to assert control and brings these acts of hooliganism to an end once and for all and in a way that respects the rights, dignity and concerns of all parties involved” He further stated, ‘No more life must be lost, no individual must be attacked again in Laikipia.”
There is now a growing realisation that the traditional nomadic pastoralism of the early 1900s, over a hundred years ago, when small numbers of people moved around the sparsely populated landscape seeking grazing for their livestock alongside the herds of wild herbivores, can no longer continue in the modern day and age when there are twenty times the number of people living there with their families and engaging in many different activities to earn livelihoods. Today the growing human population has caused the increasing fragmentation of land through fencing and private ownership of farms and ranches which means that a wide expanse of open rangeland for livestock grazing is no longer freely available for everyone.
Also, the changes in weather patterns with more frequent lengthy periods of drought have made things even worse. There must be a limit to the numbers of livestock per acre of land and a realisation that overgrazing can cause long-term damage to rangelands and results in poor quality livestock. It is generally accepted that open rangeland with less than 600mm per year of rain a year cannot support more than one head of livestock per 10 acres of grassland unless they are given supplementary feed. There is a need for the government and development agencies to assist pastoralists to provide for their families and to have a better quality of life by adopting improved systems of livestock rearing to enable them to become commercial meat producers. Modern methods of livestock husbandry could allow them to earn an income from serving the huge external markets outside Kenya as well as the local domestic markets but the first challenge is to change the mindset so that there is an acceptance that stock should be reared to be sold as a product instead of being accumulated as wealth in the form of ever-increasing huge herds way beyond the carrying capacity of the over-grazed land. There is also a need for education of the children of the herdsmen’s families so that they can have other employment opportunities and careers in the future beyond only herding the family goats and cattle.
These are some of the key issues that need to be addressed if the present problems are to be resolved. Simply taking over land from private ranchers or wildlife conservancies to make this available for communal use is not a viable solution. All of the large commercial ranches and areas set aside as conservancies in Laikipia are approximately 800,000 acres in total which is less than 5% of the total rangeland in the four pastoralist counties of Baringo, Samburu, Isiolo and Laikipia but these ranches and conservancies contribute hugely to the local economy, creating employment and paying significant sums in taxes to the counties and national government. Many of the ranchers and conservancies have worked to establish good relationships and co-operation with neighbouring communities living alongside by providing grazing during periods of drought and by acting to buy up surplus stock during dry season periods as well as supporting local community development initiatives.
We have not been taking visitors to those ranches or conservancies affected by violence since the invasions took place some months ago and we will not do so again until everything is back to normal there and we are fully satisfied that there is no security risk for our guests. In the meantime, the conservancies in Laikipia which we continue to feature are Borana conservancy, Lewa Conservancy, Ol Lentille, Karisia, Loisaba, Sabuk, Segera and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. These are operating as normal but in most cases have enhanced their security significantly to ensure that they are safe for visitors such as by having an increased deployment of armed rangers present to maintain the highest level of security. As both Lewa and Ol Pejeta conservancies are important sanctuaries for endangered rhinos, the government has made clear that they are giving them the highest priority to ensure they are well-protected. For people flying in and out of Nanyuki airfield, everything is completely normal, calm and peaceful. We have had hundreds of guests staying at our Porini Rhino Camp in recent weeks and all have had an enjoyable time and found everything to be perfectly calm and peaceful in the area visited.
In a statement issued last month by the Laikipia Farmers’ Association condemning the attacks, their Chairman, Martin Evans commented: “We wish to explain that though times are very tough for those properties affected by the invasions, the extent of the troubles are restricted to parts of north and west Laikipia and not the rest of the county – which deservedly remains a world class safari destination. And these events do not affect other parts of Kenya which remain safe to visit.”
The latest British government Travel Advice makes clear that there are NO restrictions on Kenya’s safari destinations in the national parks, reserves and wildlife conservancies including the Aberdare National Park, Amboseli, Laikipia, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara, Meru, Mount Kenya, Samburu, Shimba Hills, Tsavo, nor are there any cautions against travel to the beach resorts of Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, Watamu, Diani, Lamu Island and Manda Island or the airports at the coast or in Nairobi.
Gamewatchers Safaris is based in Kenya – we live and work in Kenya and we arrange safaris to all the leading wildlife parks and beach resorts of East Africa. So we are well placed to have an excellent awareness of what is happening here and we will always ensure that our clients are never taken anywhere that might be unsafe or where their personal security could be put at risk. As we own and manage our own Camp in Laikipia: the Porini Rhino Camp in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, we are able to keep well-informed of the situation there and can confirm that the security situation is perfectly safe around Nanyuki and within all the conservancies which we currently feature in our safari itineraries. We can confirm that all our guests are continuing to enjoy their safari experiences in Kenya and they keep telling us that they are looking forward to coming back again soon!
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