How wildlife conservation in northern Kenya survived the pandemic

When safari tourism dried up with the coronavirus, northern Kenya’s community conservancies got by—but not everyone’s happy with how.

At the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a team captures an endangered Grevy’s zebra to help form a new herd at Sera Community Conservancy. Sera was established by local Samburu communities with support from the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), an organization funded largely by Western nonprofits and governments to promote community-led conservation.

Outside the health clinic in Biliqo, a hot wind whips up the dirt. It tugs at the shreds of material caught in the thornbushes, whirls discarded plastic bottles across the ground, and chases the tail of Madina Kalo’s indigo hijab as she stands in the clinic’s rough wooden doorway. It’s midyear—northern Kenya’s main dry season—and the land is parched by the sun, the color palette bright and blown out, like an overexposed photograph.

Kalo, dressed in her white nurse’s tunic and surgical mask, squints, then steps back into the cool of the clinic. She sees about 30 people a day, most of them pastoralist herders reporting routine ailments such as respiratory infections, malaria, and diarrhea. When cases are serious, Kalo refers patients to the town of Isiolo, a five-hour journey on a gravel road.

The trash and torpor of Biliqo do not inspire thoughts of tourism or nature, yet the town is in one of 39 community conservancies established by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a Kenyan conservation organization. In return for a promise to strengthen protection of their environment and wildlife, the people living in the conservancies receive basic services and benefits, often paid for by safari tourists’ cash.

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