Kenya Wildlife Service’ (KWS) rhino conservation efforts received a major boost with the launch of two ‘Dignity houses’ presented to the Cabinet Secretary (CS) Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala at KWS headquarters Monday, March 8, 2021.
The attractive container houses were funded by Maniago Safaris Ltd in collaboration with The Luigi Footprints Foundation and Stand Up, Shout Out (SUSO).
The CS noted the significance of the launch date - International Women’s Day - stating that the dignity of front-line workers who defend wildlife was raised with the launch. He said that plans were underway to provide 23 similar housing units for Nairobi National Park’s (NNP) 25 rhino monitoring blocks, adding that Kenya has 250 similar blocks countrywide.
Balala recommended that KWS and stakeholders unite to develop clear fund-raising strategies to lend dignity to, and motivate rangers to continue with wildlife protection; not only for NNP, but for Meru, Ngulia, Ruma and all other rhino sanctuaries in the country. He told attendees that the conservation mandate cannot be borne by government and public custodians alone, rather, inclusive of the private sector as well. He said there was a new policy whose Sessional Paper N0. 1 of 2020 on the KWS Policy, has been approved by Parliament and promised a total overhaul and transformation of the wildlife sector by December 2021, through this process.
CS congratulated KWS for their diligence in conservation of endangered species, commending the zero rhino poaching milestone achieved in 2020 and the greatly reduced figure of nine elephants poached that year. He challenged KWS to reach the same pinnacle with elephants as it had with rhinos, by 2022.
Balala spoke of climate change effects, linking it to the bush fires in Tsavo, Nakuru and Mt. Kenya. He lauded the ongoing strategy being developed by KWS management to prevent fires before they happen, stressing on the need for clear policies to conserve protected areas. CS advised on the necessity for approximately 100-metre buffer zones between parks and settlements adjacent to them, which sometimes harbor would-be poachers and criminals, and pose a fire risk.
Tourism CS gazetted the CEOs of SUSO, Peter Moll and Managing Director of Maniago Safaris Ltd, Annabella Francescon, as Honorary Wardens for NNP, for their support and dedication to wildlife conservation.
KWS Director General said that The Service felt a profound sense of accomplishment on the launch of the Dignity Housing project. He said NNP is Kenya’s first, and therefore oldest National Park in Kenya, having been gazetted in December 1946. “NNP is one of the most successful rhino sanctuaries for both the endangered black and white rhinos in East and Central Africa, hosting a combined population of over 120 rhinos,” he said.
DG informed those attending that all KWS rangers are affectionately dubbed the three ‘Rs’ – reliable, resilient and resourceful, saying that security was embedded in rhino management, which is why KWS has deployed a 79-strong, dedicated force, for 24-hour surveillance and monitoring of rhinos in NNP. He said that rhino rangers are distributed all over NNP in 25 teams, to man sectors of the park called blocks. Some are housed in tents, while others occupy uncomfortable Uniports. Due to wear and tear, tents require frequent, costly replacement. He thanked the three stakeholders of the Dignity Housing project, which aims at giving rangers in the field the comfort and support needed to fulfil their duties, and once all 25 units are completed, will lead to the phasing out of tents and Uniports.
The CEO of Maniago Safaris Ltd, Anabella Francescon, said that the idea of Dignity Housing was born when NNP Senior Warden, Joseph Dadacha had a dream to upgrade the living accommodation for the Rhino Monitoring and Protection Unit rangers who, by nature of their duties, live next to the wildlife they are sworn to protect. “Conservation is embedded in our hearts, and so we are delighted to be the creators of this noble project,” she said.
Ms. Francescon said that the three stakeholders came together to collectively design and build the first two self-contained homes being launched and slated to be moved into NNP over the next few days. Once there, stakeholders will install water tanks and solar power units which will provide the rangers with running water, warm showers and electricity. She said that the remaining 23 containers would be built over a period of time, at a cost of over 25 million shillings.
CEO of SUSO, Peter Moll, said that climate change and climate action are inter-linked with environment and wildlife conservation. “For our keystone species, elephants are the gardeners of our savannahs and forests; our water towers are maintained by the forests; the air you breathe is maintained by the environment – our biodiversity,” he quipped.
Moll said that when the private and public sectors, civil society and government collaborate under good leadership and a conducive environment, magic can happen, adding that the Dignity project signalled the beginning of a new wave of youth with innovative ideas, as well as the skills and talent, ready to participate in conservation. “All they need is the space, and empowerment, mentorship, collaboration and Ubuntu,” he said.
He was optimistic that the project would bestow dignity and respect to rangers because they are heroes to the youth. It would grant rangers the comfort and understanding that the world sees them, and recognizes the importance of what they do. He thanked KWS staff for making space for the youth within its ranks all over Kenya and advised the youth to always work to the best of their abilities, regardless of who watched.
The stakeholders then officially handed over a Container Interchange Certificate, confirming transfer of container ownership, to KWS.
Each fabricated, 20-foot container has a modern kitchenette, mounted bunk beds, shelves, washrooms with hot showers and lighting; and will ensure that rangers have increased security, which translates to higher motivation and better rhino and wildlife protection derived from improved work environment.