July 27, 2017

A visit to Kasigau Wildlife Corridor, Kenya

How is effective forest conservation deployed in an area of 2,000 km²? Our staff member Robert Köstner delved into this question last week at Kasigau Corridor.

The Corridor is in Kenya, a solid three-hour drive northwest of Mombasa, between the national parks of Tsavo East and Tsavo West.

The project itself encompasses around 2,000 km². The region’s vegetation is relatively homogenous, dominated by several tree species that have specially adapted to the dry conditions. They can drop their leaves and breathe through their bark, or roll their leaves up in order to minimize evaporation.

“At first glance, the landscape feels a bit peculiar. There are shrubs and trees, yet you hardly see any lush green. And the red dust takes hold everywhere.”

The Kasigau Corridor has no permanent sources of fresh water. Wild animals like elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, and leopards wander throughout the forest conversation project in search for water and nutrition.

“We have observed numerous animals on our drives. The most spectacular have surely been the elephants, leopards, and hyenas. Yet bird-watchers, too, get their money’s worth here.

The region was acquired in 1997 in order to maintain the existing forest and counteract the accelerating deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The development of biomass and the associated carbon levels is analyzed on an annual basis using 100 of the 500 random sampling locations. This process measures and documents trees and shrubs within a radius of pre-specified GPS locations. The data are used to compute how the biomass changes over time.

“You frequently see trees that have been pushed over by elephants. Since elephants are also poor metabolizers, there are many plant species that primarily spread through the animals’ dung. Consequently, it is difficult to answer whether elephants are a required element for the biomass.”

Contrary to a national park, this region is home to a large number of humans – with some 100,000 people in the original Corridor and a further 350,000 in the neighboring regions. Thus, one of the big questions is how potential conflicts between wild animals and humans can be avoided or resolved.

There are attempts to cultivate types of vegetation that the animals won’t eat. Or chili is deployed, which the elephants are able to avoid using their sensitive trunks.

There are further sizeable challenges such as water scarcity, poverty, and a lack of educational opportunities. Therefore, the revenue generated from the carbon credits is used to finance numerous social projects. Schools are built and tanks are installed for rainwater collection. Children in particular need receive school money so they are able to pursue secondary education.

“The aspect that is paramount to this project’s success is involvement of the population. They’ll only support the project if they are shown alternatives to illegal felling and poaching.”

The projects to be performed in the individual communities are determined by community representatives elected for a specific term. They consult with the community to evaluate which projects will have priority and which children will receive aid. Some of the children who were past recipients of aid are now university students and will hopefully return with their qualifications, perhaps some will practice medicine.

Various other groups additionally receive support so they can create products like baskets, clothing, jewelry, toys, or paper made from elephant dung and can generate an income. There is also information sharing on how sustainable wood coal production works.

“I was surprised by the high number and wide variety of initiatives via which the population profits from the forest conservation project, and at the same time also by how clearly defined decision processes and various committees ensure the effectiveness of the measures.”

The project in the VCS-register: www.vcsprojectdatabase.org/#/project_details/612