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Land Connected; Life Protected

Migration is an essential element in sustaining viable wildlife populations. Today, many of Kenya’s wildlife populations exist in isolation, having been separated completely by increasing human populations and infrastructure development. Wildlife corridors are critical in connecting habitats, protecting life and maintaining diversity.

Simon Gitau opening the fence between Kitenye and Mugie

Through a partnership between Mugie and Loisaba conservancies, a new migration corridor now links together more than 100,000 acres of managed conservation land in the north of Laikipia County, helping to keep the landscape open and, most importantly, connected. The Kitenye Wildlife Corridor, which at its narrowest point is 800 meters wide, was created by removing more than a kilometer of fencing and securing four small plots of land for conservation.

Beisa oryx, common zebra & Laikipia hartebeest

Wild animals need the freedom to migrate, and this corridor spans across several different habitats: from Loisaba’s dry Ewaso acacia scrubland, through the vast open plains of Kitenye, and finally rising to the olive forests of Mugie and the Lorogi plateau at 7,000 feet.

Both conservancies are home to threatened keystone species such as elephants, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe and Laikipia hartebeest, and carnivores, including wild dogs, cheetah and lion, many of which suffered considerably during last year’s drought and political strife.

With this new corridor in place, Mugie and Loisaba conservancies hope to see game moving freely between the two conservancies and the greater Laikipia landscape, connecting wildlife and allowing for a more diversified gene pool. This is especially important for cheetah, the endemic Laikipia hartebeest and Grevy’s zebra, whose numbers have declined to critical levels over the years through poaching and habitat loss.

The Kitenye Wildlife Corridor, will be managed by Mugie Conservancy and was created with support of The Nature Conservancy, which will play an important role in the ongoing protection and monitoring of the corridor.

A big thank you to The Nature Conservancy for making this possible!

Kitenye eastern views. Below, the inhabitants of the plains at Kitenya, an oryx at sunset and a Grevy zebra on alert

A mother and cub relax around the remains of a large male impala. Only meters away, a male and female leopard were mating in thick shrub © Nicholas Pilfold

With some notable exceptions (e.g. lions, hyenas, wild dogs) most large African carnivores live a solitary existence. They hunt for food, raise young, and fend off rivals all on their own. This is particularly true for the species that I research at Loisaba Conservancy: the African leopard.

It is already a rare sight when more than one leopard is found in the same location, even more so with multiple individuals. But it does happen. The circumstances for why it happens can be as interesting as the event itself.

This past February, I had the chance to experience a leopard congregation (aka “a leap”) around a kill site. A large male impala had been killed by an equally large male leopard, and once he had his fill, other leopards moved in for leftovers. In many cases, this tolerance for sharing food would not have been allowed by a dominant male still at the kill site; but in this circumstance, he was distracted by a female looking for a mate.

An adult female looks back towards the direction of her departing male mate © Nicholas Pilfold

While the male consorted with the female within the privacy of some dense shrub, a mother and cub moved in on the leftovers. They were extremely relaxed around the kill, recognizing that the adult male was not a threat. Four leopards in a such a tight setting was a surprise and was only surpassed when the next morning a fifth leopard showed up to work on some of the last scraps high in a Boscia tree. The fact that the fifth leopard showed up so quickly likely meant she was in the vicinity when the kill happened the day before.

While leopards spend much of their lives in solitude, events like these remind us of their capacity for sociality in the right setting.

By: Nicholas Pilfold, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global

Peter Ekidor has been one of our fantastic Loisaba guides for the past 5 years. Born on Loisaba, Ekidor’s passion for tourism and conservation started at a young age when he would read the guides text books his father made leather covers for. He now holds his Silver level guiding certificate and will write his FGASA examinations next month. He is also completing a diploma in Tour Guiding and Administration with the Amboseli Institute of Science and Technology. All this he manages to do whilst guiding full time for Elewana at Loisaba Tented Camp! We caught up with Ekidor last week…

© Isabelle Parsons

How did you become a guide on Loisaba?

I was born on Loisaba where my father used to work but brought up in Kinamba, Sosian where I started my Primary level schooling. Whilst I was finishing school my older brother was working as a cook for Elephant Pepper Camp in the Mara and I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps in the tourism industry. After completing high school I was given a chance through Cheli and Peacock to write the Bronze level, Kenya Professional Safari Guide Exam. This I passed and after a brief time teaching at Ol Maisor Primary School I was offered a guiding job with Loisaba at the Tented Camp.

 

What parts do you love about the job?

I love taking bush walks, guests are always looking out for the big fauna but don’t often see the small organisms such as insects. On bush walks I can explain the importance these small organisms play in the ecosystem. I really enjoy being out in the bush and sharing information about the bio-diversity of the Laikipia ecosystem.

© Ambrose Letoluia

What do you love about Laikipa?

I love Laikipia because it is my home. In terms of tourism, I love the space available for guests and the Laikipia landscape is beautiful. We also have special kinds of animals that you do not see so much elsewhere. These are Grevy Zebras, Reticulated Giraffe, Gerenuk the antelope with the long necks, Lesser Oryx, Somali Ostrich, Jacksons Hartebeest and Wild Dogs. Laikipia has been known for their Wild Dogs but a disease was brought in last year during  the land invasions which wiped out a great number of our Wild Dogs. I was very happy to hear last week that there is a den on Mpala, with nine Wild Dog puppies.

What are the problems you see within the current Laikipia landscape?

Overgrazing is a big issue. People need to learn how to manage the number of their animals so that they can co-exist with the wildlife and so that they will not have an issue with the carrying capacity of the land. There needs to be education about the livestock, the breeding and a focus on the quality of the animal rather that quantity.

© Isabelle Parsons

What has been your most memorable experience as a guide?

I once saw four lionesses hunting a warthog. The warthog was so clever, it teased the lionesses and ran towards them causing the lionesses to retreat whilst he snuck into his burrow! Unfortunately, he was too impatient and came out of his burrow to the awaiting lionesses who then caught him. Also, down at Sosian Spring I watched a martial eagle knock down a monitor lizard which pretended to be dead. The martial eagle thought he had an easy meal so was in no hurry but the monitor lizard saw his opportunity and dashed into the water and escaped.

 

How do you see Conservation and Tourism working together?

Conservation is all about the peaceful co-existence of the communities and people with the wildlife and their understanding of how these animals behave and the space they need. Tourism needs conservation, so that there is conducive environment whereby the animals co-exist with the communities around. The future of conservation lies in the hands of the young people. If it is something that everyone becomes involved with I am sure we will live in a better and peaceful Laikipia.

Grevy Zebra