By Peter Stewart

Invasive prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) are a serious problem in Laikipia County, Kenya. This invasive plant spreads rapidly across the landscape, turning diverse habitat into a green hell of pads and spines. As invasive plants like prickly pear spread, they can alter the behaviour of wild animals, triggering a cascade of consequences which impact on the ecosystem and the communities who inhabit it.

A stand of invasive prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) at a heavily-invaded site.

In a new project, our team from Durham University’s Conservation Ecology Group, in collaboration with Mpala Research Centre and Loisaba Conservancy, is working to understand how prickly pear affects the habitat use of wild mammals – a key aspect of their behaviour.

To achieve this goal, we are using motion-activated camera traps to record how many animals of each species are using sites invaded by prickly pear, and then comparing these numbers to nearby sites with little or no cactus. The camera traps also provide information about how different species interact with the cactus, whether eating its fruits or spiny pads, eating other plants which grow within the cactus stands, or using the cactus as cover to hide from predators.

An elephant feeds on the fruit of Opuntia engelmannii.

To process the huge number of photos collected by the camera traps, we need your help! We have set up a project on the online citizen science platform Zooniverse, where anyone can view the camera trap photos and classify the animals in them. You can click here to visit the project home page.

Before uploading images to Zooniverse, we pre-screen them with the machine learning tool Megadetector to filter out empty images – this means that most of the images on our Zooniverse page have animals in them!


GivingTuesday was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past nine years, it has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.

For GivingTuesday this year, we are encouraging donations towards drought relief at Loisaba and the surrounding communities. Low rainfall during both ‘rainy seasons’ this year in northern Kenya means both wildlife and people have started to suffer.

With food prices rising and the value of malnourished livestock falling, the United Nations World Food Programme says 2.4 million people in the region will struggle to find enough to eat.

© Ami Vitali. Sakakei Naiptari moves his cows out of the boma before they milk them and take them out for grazing at Loisaba

At Loisaba, we offer dry season relief grazing to community cattle in order to support community members where there is little grass outside of protected areas for their livestock. We also run a community livestock fattening programme, where community livestock are looked after by Loisaba’s herdsmen and provided with veterinary care and supplementary feeding in order to increase their value when sold to market. Currently, 5500 community cattle are being supported by Loisaba. In order to maintain this, and to ensure wildlife also have enough to drink and graze, we need to purchase hay and high protein range cubes for the cattle.

Children at Ewaso School © Ami Vitali

According to the U.N, more than 465,000 children under five are malnourished in Kenya’s northern region. In addition to the grazing programmes, Loisaba provides school meals for 570 students at two schools neighbouring Loisaba.

Help by donating here.

$30 will provide 50 head of cattle with high protein range cubes for a month
$50 will provide a child with school meals for a school year
$100 will fund purchase and delivery of 25 bales of hay to help support grazing for both cattle and wildlife

thumbnail of Loisaba Conservancy 2021-2025 Strategic Plan

thumbnail of Rhinos at Loisaba

thumbnail of Rhinos at Loisaba

We are excited to announce that we have a new addition to Loisaba’s Mammal List; the desert warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus)!

The desert warthog is one of Africa’s least studied and most poorly-known large mammals. Although described in 1766, confusion concerning its taxonomy resulted in the recognition of only one species of warthog, the common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus).

‘Rediscovered’ in 1991, the desert warthog differs most noticeably from the common warthog in its warts (hook-shaped rather than cone-shaped) and ears (bent back at the tip rather than erect; see below).

How to most readily differentiate the desert warthog (right) from the common warthog (left) in the field. 1) Warts: adult desert warthog has a hook-shaped wart under the eye, adult common warthog has a cone-shaped wart under the eye. 2) Ears: ear tips of a desert warthog are bend backwards, ear tips of common warthog are erect. 3) Suborbital area: suborbital area (under the eye) appears swollen in adult desert warthog, absent in common warthog. 4) Head: head of desert warthog is ‘egg-shaped’ when viewed from the front, head of common warthog is slightly ‘diablo-shaped’ when viewed from the front. © Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski

Previously, a subspecies of the desert warthog (the cape warthog, P.a. aethiopicus) was found in South Africa, but became extinct in the 1870s. This is thought to be due to disease, hunting, human-caused habitat change, and/or competition with livestock.

Now found only in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the distribution, abundance, ecology, behaviour and conservation status of the desert warthog remain poorly known. A better understanding is not only of considerable scientific interest, it is important to the development of effective conservation and management plans for this species.

Although listed as ‘Least Concern’, there are large areas in Kenya where the desert warthog is naturally absent or at very low density. During dry periods, there are few sources of drinking water and plant productivity is low – meaning higher competition between livestock and wildlife for forage and water. Many protected areas within the range of the desert warthog experience high livestock densities during the dry seasons, and are affected by insecurity and poaching.

In February 2021, Yvonne de Jong and Tom Butynski visited Loisaba as part of their study of the distribution and conservation status of the desert warthog in Kenya and Horn of Africa. During their two-day visit they obtained the first record for desert warthog at Loisaba (the 4th location in Laikipia, along with Lekurruki Conservancy, Il’Ngwesi Conservancy, and Suyian Ranch). “Loisaba has at least one sounder of four (2 adult females and 2 subadult females) and possibly a sounder of both desert warthogs and common warthogs”. Thanks to our carefully managed cattle grazing programmes and excellent security (0 poaching incidences at Loisaba since 2017), we are proud to be able to provide safe habitat for the desert warthog.

Yvonne and Tom’s updated desert warthog distribution map is completed and ready to be published. There are still, however, many questions that remain unanswered: Does the desert warthog interbreed with the common warthog? Did this species only recently arrive in Laikipia? Where else is it found in Laikipia?

Common warthog at Loisaba © De Jong & Butynski


How You Can Help

Have you seen desert warthog in Kenya? To help answer some of these questions, and to better understand the distribution of desert warthogs, details and a photograph of your encounter would be highly appreciated. The following information is most helpful:

  • Date of sighting
  • Name of nearest village or town
  • Latitude and longitude
  • Elevation
  • Habitat

Please send the details and image of your sighting to [email protected] or [email protected].

Loisaba’s Community Development Project Management Tool

In 2019, Baotree trialled a new coexistence model at Loisaba which aims to provide local communities with a mechanism to actively earn community development goals (such as the installation of predator proof bomas to keep cattle in) through carrying out conservation-based activities.

The model works by assigning conservation tasks known as ‘gigs’ to communities, such as reporting a lion sighting to assist with research and strengthening their boma to help reduce human wildlife conflict. Each of these gigs is rewarded with a conservation currency, “bao-points”, which are then exchanged for a community benefit (the request was ‘predator proof bomas’ – somewhere to keep their livestock safe from predators at night). The more important the gig for conservation, the more bao-points earned! The pilot was a great success, but was run without the technology.

“Nature conservation is about behaviour, and when we can provide dignity to individuals instead of aid – the game of conservation and community relations completely changes” – Dimitri Syrris

After developing their project management software, the Baotree team returned to Loisaba in November 2020 in order to trial it on two neighbouring communities. The software allowed Loisaba to plan community projects, track tasks and prove impact, all in one flexible platform.


In order to receive predator proof bomas (the chosen community benefit), community members needed to report endangered species sightings, human-wildlife conflicts and the removal of invasive species. This was made easy by the Baotree technology – all they had to do was register their phones and dial *724# at no charge. This would notify Loisaba’s “BaoRiders” – security rangers trained by the Baotree team on the model – to verify the task as being complete via an app. This allowed Loisaba to better monitor and evaluate what the cost of living with wildlife was for the Koija and Nanapaa communities.


The tech trial was a success, with 231 tasks reported and 176 verified over the two week period. These figures represent high engagement from both Loisaba and the community members.

“Having spent the past two weeks using Baotree’s software in partnership with our communities, it is very clear that we have underestimated just how engaged our community stakeholders want to be” – Paul Naiputari, Loisaba Community Liaison Officer

Loisaba estimates that wildlife conflict can range between 5 to 20 incidences every month, which is largely dependent on rainfall (more rainfall means more grass, which in turn means wild prey are stronger and harder to catch – so more predation incidences on livestock by predators are reported). Baotree’s software was able to capture this data digitally, with accompanying visual evidence and geo-location data. During the two week technology test, there were 25 wildlife conflicts reported. Baotree’s project management software confirmed 16 conflicts with evidence captured. More data over a longer timeframe will provide Loisaba with monitoring and evaluating capabilities to fundraise for future community projects, and allow community members to simultaneously support biodiversity and provide benefits to their communities.

We’re excited to continue working with Baotree’s project management software and to utilize the data to assist both in future fundraising efforts for community development, and to make better informed conservation decisions from beyond our boundaries.

For more information, go to and follow the journey on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

For #InternationalWomansDay this year, we are celebrating the women who are critical to our work at Loisaba. Damaris, Leah, Rita, Doreen and Antonellah tell us about some of the issues women still face in Kenyan communities…

Damaris Jeruto, Operations

 Tell us a little bit about yourself:

“I am from Elgeyo Marakwet County. I have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a passion for conservation. I am a woman of substance, a go getter and am proud of the woman I am today because I went through hell to become her.”

Do you feel like women have disadvantages in Kenya?

“Yes. There are family and community obligations – women have no voice especially in the public forum and no authority within their homestead. Their main role is to do the house work and take care of the children. In the case of career women, I believe that whatever a man can do, a woman can do it better, but they are not given key positions in the workplace.”

What are the problems that women face in your community? Have you had to overcome any of them?

“One of the problems women face is lack of sanitary products. It kills a women’s confidence and lowers their self-esteem every month. Girls also end up not going to school during this time. Lack of products forces women and girls to use other alternatives which are not as hygienic, leaving them susceptible to disease.

 “Another problem is single parenting due to early pregnancies before marriage. I have had to overcome this through working hard to balance motherhood with completing my studies. I love working at Loisaba Conservancy as it has assisted me in so many ways. There is nothing stronger than a broken women who has rebuilt herself.”

What can women achieve if given the chance?

“Women are the real architects of the society and they can build nations and make a huge difference if given the chance.”

What message would you like to send other women?

Let us dream big and stay focused!”


Leah Mutiso, Procurement

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Leah Mumbi Mutiso. I was born in the Eastern part of Kenya but later settled in the central region. I started working at Loisaba in 2016 as assistant clerk, and also helped in operations and accounts. I later moved to the procurement department where I currently work as the procurement officer.

How did you start to work at Loisaba?

“I decided to work at Loisaba because I like working in cool areas with no pollution, and I’m passionate about conservation – I love animals.”

Do you feel women have disadvantages in Kenya?

“In Kenya, most men feel that their wives should remain at home and take care of domestic chores. They feel threatened if women want to further their education as they don’t want to feel inferior and looked down upon. In government, most of the top positions are occupied by men and when women come up with ideas, no one supports them.”

What are the problems that women face in your community?

“Women are facing many challenges, such as Female Genital Mutilation which is carried out between 8 and 12 years old and can lead to many health complications. Lack of education is another issue. Most people support educating boys rather than girls, as they believe girls bring wealth through marriage rather than jobs. This also causes a high rate of child labour in girls e.g. fetching firewood and water from long distances and helping their mothers take care of their younger siblings.”

 What message would you like to send other women?

“Education is the key to success, you are capable and you can do whatever a man can do (but better!)!”


Rita Orahle, Security & Conservation

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

“My name is Rita Orahle from Maralal, Samburu County. I currently work at Loisaba Conservancy as an Assistant Security Administrator and I am passionate about conservation.”

Do you feel like women have disadvantages in Kenya?

“Today, we have women educated and holding leadership positions that were previously held by men. Women are being empowered and this has brought a change in the view of women in society. However, I feel that women and girls still face challenges such as gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices such as FGM, early marriages and not being fully represented in decision making.”

What are the problems that women face in communities? Have you had to overcome any of these?

“I come from the Rendille community, and have interacted with the Samburu culture which is similar to the Rendille’s. In my community, women face challenges such as early marriages and FGM, which hinders education. Luckily my parents valued educating their children, and have been very supportive of me. I hope that many parents from my community will embrace the importance of educating their daughters.”

 What can women achieve, if given the chance?

Women can achieve a lot. I believe that if women are empowered, the whole society is transformed as it will not only benefit individuals but the entire community.”

What message would you like to send other women?

“Women are equally important in society, and have the power to change the world!”


Antonellah Kaparo, Security Control Room

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

“My name is Antonellah Namunyak Kaparo from Kimanjo village in Laikipia North. I am a Maasai lady. I completed my O Level education at St Francis’ Girl’s Secondary school and now work at Loisaba Conservancy in the security command centre.

Do you feel women have disadvantages in Kenya?

“Yes, they are not given equal opportunities in the society.”

What are the problems that women face in your community? Have you had to overcome any of them?

“Many are not educated, so it is hard for them to have a job to support their families. The community is still very much pastoral, and the women are expected to look after the livestock which makes their lives harder since they are also expected to perform household duties, and take care of the family. I personally overcame this challenge by working hard to get an education and a job, in order to provide for my family and employ a herder for the livestock.”

What can women achieve if given the chance?

“Women can do great things, due to their patient spirit.”

What message would you like to send other women?

“Take courage to understand yourselves – you are important. Stand firm to support yourselves and others who have been left behind.”


Doreen Lekalasimi, Security

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

“My name is Doreen and I am from Oldonyiro in Isiolo county. My parents were incredibly supportive of my education and ensured I went to school. I have always been pushed to work hard for a better tomorrow. I now work at Loisaba’s security command centre. 

Do you feel like women have disadvantages in Kenya?

“Yes. In most cases, they are not given equal chances in the society and that makes them appear and feel inferior to men.”

What are the problems that women face in your community? Have you had to overcome any of these?

“Gender bias, lack of education for girls, early pregnancies and forceful marriages are all issues in the community. I myself overcame some of these issues by striving to work hard in education to achieve economic independence.”

What can women achieve if given the chance?

“A lot. More women are becoming literate and pursuing higher education which is creating an opportunity for them to work and support their families.”

What message would you like to send other women?

The world has changed. You can be anyone you want to be and do great things!”


Read about more members of our team in last year’s blog post here.