During my career, I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the world’s most ardent conservationists, many of them involved in preserving wild places through “conservancies” — an innovative concept that utilizes private or community owned land for the purpose of wildlife conservation.
People often ask me about conservancies (what exactly are they?) and why they should go to one verses a national park or government game reserve. I’m a big fan of conservancies and thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned about them over the years, as well as some of the differences between visiting a conservancy and a national park.
Kenya is a great example of outstanding work being done in conservancies. Just eight percent of land in Kenya is taken up by national parks, national reserves and other government conservation areas. On the other hand, 12% of Kenya is protected within the confines of 140 conservancies — a total area just slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia.
National parks and reserves have fairly strict rules, so guests may be limited in where they can go and what they can do — often only game drives, with no limit on the number of safari vehicles cruising a particular area. Conservancies offer a terrific alternative to the crowds that often plague popular parks like the Masai Mara.
There are three different kinds of conservancies: those owned privately by individuals, community ranches and range land transformed into conservancies run by group committees and my favorite (as well as the most challenging model), a group of local individual land owners who create a conservancy managed by professionals.
One of my clients, The Elewana Collection, has lodges based in all three kinds of conservancy (in addition to properties inside national parks and reserves), so I’ll use them as examples.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, best known for its rhino preservation efforts, is privately owned by the Craig family and was once a working ranch. Years ago, the family set aside 5,000 acres for rhino conservation programs. It was so successful they eventually turned the entire ranch into a conservancy — a great example of private land being reclaimed for wildlife.
The Elewana Collection manages Lewa Safari Lodge, which is owned by the conservancy, and serves as a revenue stream with profits reinvested into conservation work. The conservancy offers a wide range of activities for lodge guests, including horseback riding and trekking with camels — activities that can only be done on private land in Kenya.
A second example is the Kitirua Conservancy adjacent to Amboseli National Park (beautiful views of Kilimanjaro). Elewana’s Tortilis Camp pays a fixed rent to the Masai landowners while camp guests pay a $30 per person (per day) fee, the funds going to conservancy management, anti-poaching and wildlife protection.
What does the Masai community get from this arrangement? Jobs as guides and conservation workers as well as employment through other nonprofits in local schools, elephant conservation, etc. Guests have the opportunity for activities they cannot do in Kenya national parks (such as night game drives and guided walks) in addition to game drives in the national park and on the conservancy. What do the animals get? More land to roam all the way to the border with Tanzania.
The Mara North Conservancy (MNC) adjacent to the Masai Mara Reserve is another kind of conservancy. To establish the conservancy, Stefano Cheli convinced over 800 Masai landowners not to fence their properties, and instead help create an area where wildlife, tourism and Masai would coexist, with all partners benefiting.
Elephant Pepper Camp has been the driving force in creating MNC. To quote the camp’s website, the conservancy “covers a core parcel of over 70,000 acres bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve to the north and effectively increasing its size by 20%. The conservancy, established in 2009, provides some of the Masai Mara ecosystem’s prime game viewing, whilst guaranteeing over 800 Masai landowners stable revenue, transparent financial management and the preservation of the ancient balance between wildlife and traditional pastoralism.”
What do guests get out of this? Very well managed game viewing – with a low number of vehicles allowed on the conservancy at any one time, plus guided game viewing walks, community visits and frankly the pleasure of knowing that their tourism dollar really is making a difference.
An expert in adventure and wildlife destinations worldwide, Jane Behrend started her own travel marketing company in 1989 after learning the business as an account executive in public relations and advertising sales. In 2008, Jane rebranded her business as Emerging Destinations, a company that represents cool companies in cool places around the globe. She chose the name because her passion is working with areas where tourism is relatively new and still off the beaten path. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at emergingdestinations.com.