Ishaqbini Community Conservancy
Ishaqbini Community Conservancy
The Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy is one of NRT’s newest community conservation initiatives located in the Masalani Division of the Ijara District. The conservancy surrounds the eastern sector of the Tana River National Primate Reserve and is managed by and represents local Somali pastoralist communities from Hara, Korissa and Kotile whose members come from the Abdullah clan of the Ogaden community.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and its Hirola Management Committee approached NRT for its assistance in developing a community conservancy in an area where previous attempts had not succeeded. KWS has raised the possibility of incorporating the eastern sector of the Tana River National Primate Reserve under conservancy management through a co-management agreement. This would be a major development for a community conservancy in Kenya and provide added importance and potential for wildlife and tourism development at Ishaqbini.
The most important feature of this conservancy initiative is that it encompasses an area of land inhabited by the endangered Hunters Hartebeest, commonly called Hirola, with an estimated population of 100 Hirola within the conservancy area. Hirola are Africa’s most endangered large antelope with a total population estimated at merely 400 individuals, having declined from over 14,000 in the 1970s. The last aerial survey conducted by NRT in conjunction with the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in July 2008 counted 152 Hirola in the conservancy area. Ishaqbini community scouts have been instrumental in the conservation of Hirola through monitoring and anti-poaching efforts in the area.
Ishaqbini is also home to large herds of buffalo and giraffe. Elephants are now being routinely sighted, as are lions, leopards, cheetahs and topi. The area is also home to hundreds of species of birds that can be viewed in the thousands along the banks of Lake Ishaqbini. Also of interest is the extremely endangered Tana River Red Colobus and Mangabey primates that inhabit portions of the Tana River National Primate Reserve.
Establishing grazing management in the conservancy is seen as crucial to the conservation of Hirola, providing a refuge for wildlife and reducing competition with livestock. The needs of wildlife however must be balanced with those of the community, who require access to critical resources (grazing and water) for their livestock. In this regard, a grazing committee exists, consisting of community representatives, principally elders from each of the three locations that form the conservancy – Hara, Korissa and Kotile. As with other NRT conservancies, the role of the grazing committee is to draft regulations for grazing management, development and enforcement of grazing bylaws, and making sure the community understands these bylaws and the benefits of rehabilitating rangelands.
Engagement with surrounding communities is a crucial step towards improving wildlife security in Ishaqbini, as it develops a foundation to ensure that the critical riverine forest habitat is conserved in future. Promising progress has been made with the neighbouring Pokomo communities on the western side of the Tana River. They have requested Ishaqbini to help them initiate a conservancy that NRT and the Kenya Wildlife Service are now exploring. This is bodes well for the future of the Reserve area and Ishaqbini.
The Conservancy currently hosts self-catered camping along the banks of Lake Ishaqbini or in the bush. Ishaqbini community scouts are made available for bush walks and Conservancy Manager Omar Dagane is available if guests want to learn more about the conservancy, its activities or the surrounding communities. Conservancy and community members are interested in establishing a more formal tourism operation in the conservancy in the near future. Given the area’s unique species and biodiversity coupled with its abundant wildlife, Ishaqbini has great potential for tourism development.
NRT has big plans for Ishaqbini. Through research, they hope to unearth the mysteries of this refuge (indeed, virtually no studies have been conducted in this unique ecosystem). Low impact tourism is being discussed. All the while, enhancing the livelihoods of the people in the area will be a priority. The stakes are high, and the choices are stark. If we succeed, we will have protected the last remaining herds of hirola in this truly unique environment. If we fail, Beatragus Hunteri will be in the archives as the first ever genus lost under our watch.