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(Amboseli, Kenya – 13 September 2023) — Community and conservation leaders observed a remarkable milestone today when, 11 years after a triumphant gathering of hundreds of Maasai people committed their lands to protect elephants, it returned to their keep.
Leaders and landowners gathered from the Olgulului-Ololorashi Group Ranch (OOGR) in Amboseli, Kenya and IFAW, which has leased the Kitenden Conservancy from the OOGR for the last decade.
Kitenden is a 26,000-hectare critical wildlife dispersal and transboundary elephant migration corridor for Amboseli National Park bordering Tanzania.
In 2012, 2,600 individual landowners signed a five-year lease agreement with IFAW, responding to concerns that the sub-division of the group ranch was encouraging land sale to agricultural investors. This risked negatively impacting the natural movement and dispersal of elephants and broader biodiversity conservation.
“As farming increased, it would have increased elephant-human conflict, closing elephant access to dispersal areas and migratory corridors in Tsavo and Mt Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania. Both are crucial for sustaining animal and plant populations' distribution, genetic diversity, and health within the ecosystem,” says Kenyan conservationist and IFAW Africa Director James Isiche.
“Between the OOGR and IFAW, we have secured thousands of acres of land, retaining the natural landscape and ensuring wildlife continue to thrive and communities have benefited.”
The USD 1.2 million per year lease agreement signed in 2012 and renewed five years later saw each landowner dedicate a 10-acre to conservation. The lease fee guaranteed IFAW’s support for livelihood projects and the establishment of a community-owned tourism and elephant conservation conservancy.
Today, IFAW returned the lease to Amboseli’s OOGR landowners, ensuring the community can pursue further regional investment.
Today’s event also marked the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between IFAW and the Country Government of Kajiado (CGK). The Government of Kenya recently announced it would cede management of some of its national parks—including Amboseli NP—to county governments.
The MoU was signed by H.E. Joseph Ole Lenku, Governor of Kajiado and Azzedine Downes for IFAW. It covers broad areas of cooperation between IFAW and CGK on wildlife, policy, governance and conservation management.
2013 after signing the lease, IFAW spearheaded the rehabilitation of a 50-year-old dilapidated 90km pipeline for pumping water from a spring in Amboseli National Park for use by the community within the group ranch. It also set up management systems, built road roads and offices, supplied security equipment and housing for rangers, and trained, kitted and paid salaries for 87 community game rangers.
As part of efforts to improve community livelihoods, IFAW has invested in bursaries for disadvantaged students, helped empower women and boosted the community’s resilience to droughts and climate change through income-generating projects. This included establishing Team Lioness, an all-women ranger unit. IFAW’s ‘Jenga Mama’ initiative has become an iconic flagship project showcasing how empowering disadvantaged gender groups in wildlife-rich resource areas can lead to win-win outcomes for both people and wildlife.
Over the years, these benefits persuaded 400 landowners to sign up for the established conservancy.
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