Karen Karimi Knaust @Karimi_Karen
It is 6am, rangers call up time at Saparingo outpost on the edge of Nyakweri Forest in Narok county. This woodland is also fondly referred to as the ‘elephant’s maternity’, because of its serenity; a safe haven for expectant elephant cows to give birth.
Enduring the chilly morning cold, rangers who are predominantly from the neighbouring villages in the Trans Mara Conservation Area (TCA) line up for their routine drill led by Warden Karioki Kisiool.
The eleven rangers have all been trained and equipped with the right gear for the day’s patrol. On a typical day, the rangers conduct separate foot patrols and cover distances of between 10 and 15 kilometres.
Saparingo is one of four community ranger units supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Kenya, through the African Elephant Project in the Trans Mara Conservation Area. The aim of the project is to strengthen wildlife monitoring under communal land.
One of the tasks by Kisiool is to ensure the wellbeing and health of each of the rangers and reiterating their important contribution in safeguarding people as they protect wildlife.
“Protecting Nyakweri Forest and the elephants starts with creating good rapporteur with the local communities. Be kind to people and follow the law when you meet anyone engaging in illegal practices,” is his mantra as a patrol leader.
Though not armed, the Saparingo rangers opt for participatory approaches when engaging with communities, mostly through community meetings (barazas). Direct confrontation with poachers and illicit loggers is risky and is best tackled collaboratively with armed law enforcement teams from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other partners.
Regular joint patrols with KWS and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) rangers, Kenya Police officers and rangers from neighbouring conservancies have also led to a reduction in destructive activities within the main forest block and also led to several arrests.
Over 200 suspects have been arraigned and prosecuted at Kilgoris Law Courts since 2017 for wildlife crime related offences.
These patrols are focused on key hotspots subject to rampant habitat destruction and wildlife poaching and human-wildlife conflict within the Trans Mara Conservation area such as Sitoka, Laila forest, the Murghor River and Nyakweri forest.
WWF-Kenya together with partners within the landscape will continue to support and strengthen the communities in Trans Mara Conservation Area to ensure people and nature live in harmony.