Conservation Programmes

Here are some of the conservation programmes run by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)

  • Rhino Programme
  • Elephant Programme
  • Wetland Programme
  • Forest Programme
  • Education & Youth Programme


The Rhino Programme, established to protect this highly endangered species-poached even more intensively than elephant during the last two decades-concentrates on containing rhino in small, safe areas where they can be guarded and monitored and their breeding patterns re-established. Kenya has nine rhino sanctuaries, four on public land and five in private reserves that collaborate with KWS from time to time.

Monitoring of individual rhino was a main focus of 1994-95. Visual night counts were routinely carried out by the Rhino Programme Surveillance Unit. In Tsavo East, the rhinoin the Ngulia sanctuary received extra protection from radio transmitters fixed to their horns and monitored from the air and from the ground station. All orphaned and translocated rhino introduced to Ngulia and the Aberdare Rhino Sanctuary had transmitters fitted to ensure close monitoring of their movements and behaviour patterns.

A major survey carried out in the Chyulu Hills established that a breeding group of about five black rhino has settled there.

KWS also got involved in management of Kenya’s white rhino population, mostly resident in private sanctuaries. The twelve white rhino from South Africa introduced to Solio, twenty of this group were moved to other ranches and to Lake Nakuru National Park.

To prevent inbreeding, KWS translocated and successfully released nine more South African animals into the Nakuru sanctuary in September 1994. Ten additional white rhino from South Africa were released on Ol Choro Ouirua, a private ranch bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve. (One of this group died of trypanosomiasis, spread by tsetse fly, and another recovered from the disease and was translocated to Nakuru.)

An ecological monitoring programme in private rhino sanctuaries (Ol Jogi, Ol Pegeta/Sweetwaters, Laikipia, Lewa Downs), national parks (Tsavo East and West, Nairobi, Aberdare, Lake Nakuru) and public sanctuaries and reserves (Mathews Range, Maasai Mara) studied population trends and competition for vegetative foodstuffs among all animal species. Vegetation trends and the current rhino population in each sanctuary also were examined to determine rhino carrying capacities.

KWS provides 80% of Rhino Programme funding from recurrent expenditure, with small, specific projects funded by donors, including charitable organizations and the private sector.

KWS and donors successfully collaborated to translocate twenty rhino from Solio Ranch to Tsavo East National Park. The World Wide Fund for Nature bought transmitters and funded the helicopter used to transport the animals; KWS funded the rangers, veterinarians and Rhino Programme officers; and the Eden Wildlife Trust built a special Rhino Programme camp and, together with Daphne Shedrick, funded the construction of bomas to house the translocated rhino for a month pending their release.

Please see Lake Nakuru Rhino Sanctuary.


From 1969, in the space if twenty years, Kenya lost 85% of its elephant population. The cause was systematic and vicious poaching by armed professional bandits. The crisis called for a strong response, and in 1989, KWS instituted a new antipoaching force and its Elephant Programme, with the express aim of protecting this highly endangered species. After six years of protection, Kenya now hosts approximately 25,000 elephant-less than 15% of the 1969 population.


1969 – 167,000

1979 – 130,000

1989 – 20,000

1995 – 25,000

Population is still vital to secure the future of Kenya’s elephant, but new issues have arisen that require sensitive and urgent treatment. Human-elephant conflict is a growing problem. The elephant is now the number one wildlife killer of humans. In 1993, the thirty-five human deaths caused by elephant represented 75% of all such deaths caused by wild animals. Living side by side with elephant also affects communities in more subtle ways. In Trans-Mara District, for example, elephant developed a taste for human food. Local women had to begin cooking in the daytime because of night raids by elephant,which sometimes knocked down the walls of houses in search of cooked food. And in Mwea, children could only journey to school after 10 a.m and leave by 3 p.m to avoid elephant. The fear they experienced, plus the curtailment of school hours, seriously affected their learning and attitudes.

The origins of the problem are complex. Elephant herds responded to heavy poaching by moving away from their traditional territories in the more remote areas of Kenya to comparative safety in lands near parks and settled areas. As a result, the level of human-elephant conflict in settled rural areas escalated. Once KWS put an end to poaching, elephant moved back toward previously endangered areas, only to find that their home territories had been cultivated by farmers, exacerbating the conflict.

As a result, the Elephant Programme now concentrates on research that will help minimize and contain conflict with humans. In addition, KWS set up the Problem Animal Management Unit under the Community Wildlife Service in 1994 to deal with life- and livelihood-threatening situations.

Systematic research has given KWS a better understanding of elephant movements and behaviour with which to assist local communities. Elephant behaviour patterns, for instance, are extremely dynamic and changed dramatically over a two-year study period in response to changes in the environment.

Research revealed that communities traditionally used noise to drive wildlife away, so KWS taught villagers to make noise at night, when elephant eyesight is poor, to provide a deterrent. KWS supported the villagers’ actions by firing thunderflashes and blanks to drive the herds away. The noise worked for two or three days but the animals soon learned to recognize these scare tactics.

Barriers proved to be important in matching the elephant’s sophisticated intelligence and physical prowess. KWS next helped villages under seige build moats, trenches and stone walls and, in critical locations, installed electric fencing.

Fencing is indeed a key deterrent but brings other problems: concentration of elephant in relatively small areas cuts them off from their traditional migration and dispersal grounds and the animals, with their tremendous daily forage needs, over time denude the areas within which they are confined. In the end, fencing is only a partial solution because elephants are intelligent enough to outwit fence designers. In the Aberdares, current in the poles of an electrified fence became necessary once the animals learned to use the insulated earth wire and pole to push their way through.

KWS also had developed plans for selective translocations of elephant from overpopulated, sensitive areas such as Mwea, Shimba Hills and the Aberdares to areas such as Tsavo East National Park, where elephant capacity exists.

In extreme instances, the Problem Animal Management Unit culls problem elephant. this functions as a psychological deterrent for other elephants within the social group, but it is not a desirable option and is exercised only when all other measures have been unsuccessful and human life is endangered.

No single method of elephant control works all of the time, and no combination of methods works well without community support. Creating any form of empathy with elephant among people who have seen a year’s crops laid to waste, their children threatened or their neighbours or family members killed is difficult, and made education a key area for 1994-95.

Elephant Programme and Community Wildlife Service officers worked closely to change communities’ negative perceptions of elephant. They gathered women and children together outside schools and in village centres to discuss their problems and the possible benefits of elephant, particularly their tourism potential when coupled with appropriate land use. Whenever a community responded and profited from elephant, some of its members visited other communities to tell their story.



1989 09 00 00
1990 09 00 10
1991 24 00 15
1992 40 06 42
1993 35 08 57
1994 15 11 66

A = People killed by elephant
B = Elephant killed by people in self defense
C = Elephants shot in self-defense

Source: KWS Elephant Programme.

In Laikipia District, which receives an average 500 mm of rainfall per annum- too little to raise crops successfully – KWS officers approached hard-pressed farmers to educate them about the benefits of cattle ranching and tourism development. Convincing the community to diversify into economic activities more appropriate to its environment than farming eventually should remove the attraction-tasty human food crops-that is the main cause of regular elephant raids.

Around Amboseli, elephant are relatively well accepted but compressed by human settlement. Two options remained for the area’s growing but confined elephant population: culling to reduce numbers or increasing the space within which the animals could roam. The Elephant Programme team, together with park managers and Community Wildlife Service officers, approached Maasai cattle ranchers in the area with a view to safely reopening traditional migratory areas for the Amboseli herds. In April 1995, the group ranch elders, in return for a stake in tourism revenues, agreed to allow elephant to roam their lands and for their young men to learn game scout skills to monitor and protect the herds.

Human-elephant conflict has far from completely receded, but the incidence of human deaths caused by elephant has declined dramatically in the last two years. The Elephant Programme team is optimistic that the measures instituted in 1994 have begun to take effect.


The year 1994-95 was very significant for wetlands management in Kenya. Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha, with their biodiverse bird and animal populations, were named sites of special international importance under the Ramsar Convention governing wetlands conservation. KWS also strengthened its emphasis on the fragility of the ecosystems of the marine national parks and reserves including a new park, Diani-Chale, gazetted in June 1995. KWS’s Marine and Wetland Programme began in October 1994. With financial support from the Netherlands, finalized in July 1995, KWS concentrated on recruiting personnel, equipping the Naivasha Wildlife and Fisheries Training Institute, setting up an office in Mombasa and providing equipment for both projects.

Other wetlands projects of 1994-95 included a sea turtle survey, the Mangrove Mapping Project funded by UNEP and a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute on co-operative research to develop effective coastal-zone planning and management.

KWS continued to jointly chair the Inter-ministerial Committee on the Tana Delta Wetland, appointed by

the Kenya government to identify a core area of the delta to be set aside as a wetland reserve and produce a management plan for it. The KWS wetlands team also participated in collaborative studies of lakes Naivasha, Victoria, Nakuru and Bogoria with the National Wetlands Committee.


Lake Nakuru National Park was set up primarily as a sanctuary to protect the seasonal flocks of thousands of pink flamingo that breed on Lake Natron in Tanzania and migrate during the rainy seasons between lakes Nakuru, Elmentaita and Bogoria and sometimes as far as Amboseli.

In August 1994, a crisis developed when an epidemic killed some 30,000 flamingo in a three-month period. The KWS Veterinary Services’ research indicated the probable cause was a bacterial infection that originated with toxic algae in Lake Bogoria and was later carried to Nakuru by the birds. In July 1995, KWS carried out a complete census of flamingo to collect accurate data on the remaining population. This information will assist KWS with long-term management of Kenya’s wetland ecosystems including Lake Nakuru.

The epidemic demonstrated just how fragile Kenya’s wetland ecosystems are. Human activities in the Lake Nakuru catchment area make the park a highly sensitive environment. An extended monitoring programme to determine the types and levels of pollutants from agricultural activities, sewage and industrial effluent has included analysis of water and soil samples taken within the lake catchment basin. Bird counts and animal censuses conducted in December 1994 and March 1995 provided additional data about the health of the park.

As a result of a workshop held to discuss the research findings on geology, hydrology, land use and treatment, water obstruction and diversion, and pollution and their importance in the conservation and management plan for the entire catchment basin was drawn up and circulated.

The high impact of residential and industrial activity on the park has caused KWS to take community relationships very seriously. When the Nakuru Municipal Council applied for funds to upgrade its sewage treatment works and build a research and water-treatment laboratory that would help cut effluent levels in the lake, KWS supported the council’s efforts.

Once the research laboratory, eventually funded by JICA, is handed over to the council, a KWS research scientist will be attached to the faciliity to monitor and analyse the lake water. Once a substantial databank has been established, KWS researchers will begin educating local communities about the effects of fertilizer and other runoff on Lake Nakuru.


Kenya’s forest ecosystems are managed not only for their trees-a source of wood products-but as a biodiverse habitat for plant and animal life and, more importantly, for the role they play in protecting the country’s water and soil resources.

To facilitate implementation of joint forestry management under the Memorandum of Understanding between KWS and the Forest Department, in 1994-95 KWS worked to harmonize the two agencies’ strategies for training, planning, forest management and promotion of forest-based tourism.

The Kenya Indigenious Forest Conservation Project (KIFCON), a broad-ranging collaborative forestry project between the Kenyan and British governments, collapsed in June 1994. This loss brought home the need for urgent action, and KWS and the Forest Department applied for transitional funding to ensure that vital KIFCON projects in Mount Kenya, Lamu, Kakamega, Mau and Arabuko Sokoke did not stall.

Problem-animal control on the forest fringes, where frequent crop raiding by eleophant has increased human-wildlife conflict, was another important management area for KWS in 1994-95. Elephant Programme researchers and park managers undertook strategic studies to gain a better understanding of the species and its containment, finally recommending fencing, translocation and possibly selective culling.

Incorporating community forest management activities and encouraging projects that do not conflict with wildlife or forest management plans also received much attention.


Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve-with 41,000 hectares, the largest remnant of Kenya’s once extensive coastal forest belt-contains 115 species of birds and is considered the second most important forest in Africa for conservation of birdlife. Five threatened bird species including the Sokoke scops owl and Clarke’s weaver (never sighted outside Arabuko Sokoke) make the forest their home. Equally rare and unusual are some of Arabuko Sokoke’s mammals, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.

With the support of KIFCON, Arabuko Sokoke became a model of joint management, with KWS, the Forest Department, the National Museums of Kenya and nongovernmental organizations all co-operating to save this threatened forest by developing ecotourism activities and involving the local community.

After KIFCON’s demise, KWS and the Forest Department applied to the ODA for funds, disbursed via Birdlife International, in support of forest-management patrols, project vehicles, employment of local people to participate in Arabuko Sokoke’s conservation, and the creation of walking trails, information boards and leaflets. The ODA also provided bridging funds to continue some small-scale community economic initiatives designed to relieve pressure on the forest. Birdlife International paid for development of a visitor centre at Gede Forest Station.


Arabuko Sokoke, like most Kenyan forests, depends on the support of the local community, its leaders and politicians for its long-term future. The Kipepeo Project, a butterfly farming enterprise, is just one example of how the local community has brought in to the forest’s future.

The Kipepeo Project, begun in August 1993, is administered by the East Africa Natural History Society, in partnership with the National Museums of Kenya. Project goals were to link conservation and development through the sustainable use of butterfly biodiversity in the forest for the benefit of surrounding rural communities. The project was designed to demonstrate the value of the intact forest in generating revenue and increasing employment and earnings among local people.

To raise butterflies, local women gather the desired species from the forest and bring them to a central facility at Gede near Malindi. The wild butterflies are kept in airy cages with the specific plants each species finds attractive for laying eggs. The eggs, once laid, are gathered with care and transferred to incubation tubs until the caterpillas hatch.

Around thirty caterpillars are returned to each farmer/gatherer, who replenishes their fodder each day and monitors and records their progress until pupae form. The Kipepeo Project buys the healthy pupae back from the farmers for US$ .50 each and exports them to butterfly farms and dealers in Britain.

The project was set up with a grant of US$ 50,000 from UNDP’s GEF. KWS, which issued the permit to export butterflies, was involved from the start. With the Forest Department, KWS scientists advised on the collection of appropriate fodder species for each type of butterfly the project raises.

KWS also helped community leaders set up self-help projects capable of meeting the Kipepeo Project’s standards, involving 144 households from 5 sublocations.


The KWS Education and Youth Programme is charged with educating Kenyans and the international community to enhance knowledge of Kenya’s environment, fauna and flora and their special economic values; providing conservation and ecotourism; and generating revenue by leasing its conservation-education buses and other facilities to school, research and tourism groups.

In 1994-95, the unit operated out of six conservation-education centres in Nairobi, Tsavo East (Voi), Lake Nakuru, Meru (Murera), Aberdare (Mweiga) and Mombasa Marine national parks. Visitor information and displays in the centres highlighted conservation issues and the economic benefits of wildlife and tourism. A conservation-education brochure was produced and distributed, along with a guide to the kitum Caves in Mount Elgon, a project funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Education officers continued the outreach programme, visiting schools and cultural centres all over the country to present lectures and videos and organizing school conservation days in Nakuru and Mombasa. Mombasa schools held a drama competition with role-playing demonstrations, music and poetry. In Nakuru, a primary school conservation theme was IMPROVING WILDLIFE HABITAT IN THE COMMUNITY, and primary and secondary schools and colleges organized art and photographic competitions around the theme HERE TODAY-GONE TOMORROW! Winners were chosen on the basis of their understanding and demonstration of the problems, values and issues surrounding wildlife and the environment. Prizes donated by KWS, hoteliers and other tour operators included books on wildlife conservation.

As usual, exhibitions and displays organized for the agricultural shows held across the country demonstrated the benefits of conserving wildlife and ecosystems to a broad cross-section of Kenyans. Small, school-based conservation projects targeting the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya also reached a mass audience, and KWS education officers assisted communities in Machakos and Samburu in setting up new clubs and establishing their own projects.


The Nairobi Animal Orphanage, the most visited KWS facility in the country, continued to attract large numbers of visitors, particularly local residents and school parties. In 1994-95, the orphanage collected Kshs 7 million from 189,355 visitors. Working closely with Veterinary Services, the orphanage achieved breeding success with a pair of baboon and another of Sykes’ monkey, who produced babies in May and June of 1995.

The face of the orphanage will be changing, however, in recognition of Kenya’s changing education needs. The facility will begin to function less like a zoo and undergo a major overhaul that will showcase Kenya’s splendid range of natural habitats, the creatures that inhabit them and the relationships vital to their continued health.

The goal is to introduce Kenyans-the majority of whom only come into contact with wildlife in a negative context-to the positive attributes of wildlife conservation. By sharing responsibilities and challenges with local people, KWS aims to nurture a generation of committed and aware conservationists.

Redesign plans for the orphanage have been launched, and KWS-building on the success of its community-partnership programmes in other parks-has invited local people to participate in its redevelopment. Originally, 80 people came forward to lend the orphanage support, financially or otherwise. At a recent meeting to draw up a formal constitution for the group, their number had swelled to 303.

The redesigned orphanage, set to become operational in 1997 as the Nairobi Safari Walk, is expected to attract 400,000 visitors annually.