John Leripe, a Samburu warrior, looks down from the Mathews Range over his ancestral homeland in Kenya. It’s a wilderness that has transformed over the last few decades.
In the 1960s and 70s, a severe ivory poaching crisis wiped out the elephant and rhino populations of the region. By 1985, there wasn’t a single elephant recorded in the Mathews Range.
Elephants are ecosystem engineers, and their extinction prompted other wildlife populations to plummet. Slowly, the grasslands that the semi-nomadic pastoralists depended on to graze their cattle began to disappear under scrub.
At the time, poverty rates among the local tribes were twice that of the rest of Kenya, and there was little access to schooling or healthcare. Conflicts regularly broke out over scarce resources.
Things began to change when a conservancy was proposed for the region. The plan was to create a wildlife reserve with Samburu communities, who would help protect species while generating an income through ecotourism.
In 1995, the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy came into being, across 850,000 acres of wilderness. By 2013, the safari camps were bringing in 18m Kenyan shillings (£175,000) a year for the community, which was spent on education, health and development. Through conserving wildlife, peace and prosperity slowly grew in the region. Today, the population of elephants is back up to 6,000, and giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, buffalo and impala are all steadily increasing too.
“Conservation has provided security for the families living in this valley,” said Leripe. “There are employment opportunities for our brothers and sisters. We have also benefited in a big way with the mobile health clinic. Our ladies and children are healthy. We now have power and plans in regenerating the landscape, which impacts everything and everyone.”
Main image: Ami Vitale
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