Ten Questions/Answers with Omar Tawane, Regional Coordinator, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). Omar has recently been promoted to his current position from his post as the conservancy manager of the Ishaqbini Conservancy.
Omar, you were born and raised in the area. Could you describe what life is like in and around Masalani (the nearest town to Ishaqbini)?
General life in and around Masalani is a typical pastoral mode of life married with adoption of modern town intercepts. In Masalani people tend to adopt town life with earnings from entrepreneurial activities but making habitual visits to the grazing field for monitoring livestock conditions. Moreover, life around Masalani is engulfed by declining livestock output and deteriorating rangeland habitat.
Tell us about the pastoralist community around Masalani. How does the community differ from, say, the Maasai pastoralists?
The pastoral community around Masalani tends to mix pastoralist culture and modern town culture. This is due to the fact that there is a drastic reduction in livestock number/output as a result of tsetse fly infestation and rangeland degradation. The latter made them seek employment opportunities in the town of Masalani. Though I am not well versed with the lifestyle changes that Maasai communities have undergone, their culture seems to be more static.
When did you first become aware of the hirola?
I can’t exactly recall the exact year/date but I guess to be around when I was in primary school. I vividly remember joining my elder brother and other young herders to look after shoats and cows during weekends and holidays. There were several wild animals in abundance and is during this period I was introduced to the hirola being one of them.
The local people around Ishaqbini and Masalani are extremely tolerant of wild animals. Please explain why that is the case?
This is because they are deterred culturally from eating game meat hence giving wild animals peaceful lives. Secondly, wild animals are not unique to them since time immemorial wild animals have been part of their surroundings in the grazing land -- hence they are not considered intrusive to their way of life. Thirdly, the locals are conservationists by nature and believe in natural co-habitation between livestock and wild animals.
How did you end up as conservancy manager at Ishaqbini?
This takes me back to the year 1996 when an operation by the Kenya Wildlife Service to relocate some hirolas to Tsavo East National Park occurred. I was so skeptical in the operation particularly in their position statement “operation of hirola now or never” and I developed the concern of conserving the species in its original habitat. This positive notion was accelerated when in one of my vacations I visited my parents in one of the pristine grazing plains in Ijara that falls within the Boni Forest, which historically served as a savior for pastoral community in Ijara during dry spells. I fully witnessed the diverse wildlife resources the region is bestowed with. Upon coming back to Nairobi I decided to solicit support from friends to form an organization that would help to conserve natural resources in our region. This effort had a multiplier effect for the establishment of Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy. NRT placed an advert for a manager position for the conservancy, and I immediately applied. That is how I became the Ishaqbini Conservancy Manager.
Please describe your day-to-day responsibilities.
My day-to-day responsibilities, include planning, coordinating and overseeing the management and staff of Ishaqbini Conservancy in consultation with the conservancy board:
• Regular liaising with the local/national/international stakeholders on conservation.
• Soliciting financial support from donor’s for Ishaqbini.
• Providing guidance to sister conservancies such as the nearby Ndera Community Conservancy.
• Enforcing 100% compliance towards conservation amongst the locals.
Can you tell us about the people you manage? Where they are from, how they were trained and what responsibilities they have?
People I manage include conservancy scouts, accountant, members of the board, members of the grazing committee and the general public surrounding the conservancy. Most are from around Ishaqbini. The scouts are trained at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and in the Manyani KWS field training school for anti-poaching, wildlife monitoring and patrol, data collection, radio communications, etc. The grazing committee is trained at Lewa and other NRT operation areas for planned and controlled grazing. Board members are trained by NRT for overseeing, directing, planning, and budgeting of the Conservancy.
Tell us how the Ishaqbini Conservancy has changed since you started.
The Conservancy has undergone remarkable changes ranging from Infrastructure development, human resource empowerment, budgetary allocation and social cultural advancement -- for instance, the establishment of headquarters, employment of more than 20 personnel, full community acceptance, etc.
How is it that you were able to gather community support for the no-grazing area and the proposed no-grazing sanctuary?
We have demonstrated open and transparent management systems that created strong trust amongst the locals.
What do you envision for the Ishaqbini Conservancy in 10, 20, 30 years down the line?
Vision for Ishaqbini:
• As a result of implementing the upcoming Hirola Sanctuary and conservation initiatives the hirola population to increase to remarkable numbers. Other wildlife species also follow suit.
• Ishaqbini to develop sustainable world class tourist facilities that will in turn improve the economy.
• Ishaqbini being marketed as part of National Tourist destination areas.
• To improve the livelihood of the community through employment and bio-enterprise opportunities.
• Become a role model in community-led conservation to surrounding communities.
• Form a policy making framework for the entire Garissa County in the allocation of devolved funds to various sectors.
• Improve infrastructure such as roads and other social amenities to the locals.
• Improve the education sector by providing bursaries to the needy and poor students; construction of literacy structures like libraries, laboratories and information resource centers.
• Formation of other satellite hirola sanctuaries in other parts of the region provided the desired results are achieved with the current sanctuary.
• Development and use of efficient technology for wildlife conservation in the region.
• Forming the basis of community-led conservation in Kenya and Africa
• Forming the herb of conservation research work in Africa.
Thank you very much, Omar.