Communities living alongside national parks face numerous problems trying to co-exist with wildlife. Farmers have to take turns all day guarding their plantations from baboons who steal their food. Elephants stampede through their crops. The animals are also under stress, as humans encroach on their habitat.
This type of human-wildlife conflict is what led to the establishment of Wildlife Works to help mitigate the competition for land and food between locals and their park neighbors in Taita Taveta County. The Founder, Mike Korchinsky a Canadian citizen, learned about the conflict that existed between wildlife and rural communities during his visit to the country in 1996. His experience caused him to think about effective ways to solve this problem which ultimately led him to developing a plan that would ensure the utmost protection of wildlife.
Wildlife Works, based on the principle that the needs of wildlife must be balanced with the need for work for the local communities who share the same environment, established that the ultimate solution to this problem would be to create jobs; to provide forest and wildlife friendly economic alternatives to the forest community.
Mike looked for an area with a high threat to the wildlife to best test his new model. He settled on Rukinga Sanctuary, located south-east of Kenya in a wildlife corridor between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, known as the Kasigau Corridor. The project was to be carried out on 13 group-owned ranches and conservancy land owned by Indigenous Community Ownership Groups.
According to Wildlife works, Job creation would not only be providing the people in this wildlife rich area with sustainable economic alternatives to poaching and slash and burn agriculture; it would also in turn be protecting wildlife in a direct and unique way.
“The only way to protect a forest that’s under economic threat is to remove the economic threat. And the only way to do that is to give the community another way of achieving their goals because they’re not going to not develop.”
-Mike Korchinsky; Wildlife Works Founder.
Why Wildlife Works:
Wildlife Works is the world’s leading REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), project development and management company with an effective approach to applying innovative market based solutions to the conservation of biodiversity. REDD was originated by the United Nations (UN) to help stop the destruction of the world’s forests – a significant tool to providing real value to those rural communities who have made the commitment to protect their environment for future generations. The additional plus sign in the Wildlife Works’ business model (REDD+) signifies that community development is one of their key goals.
There are six key elements to the Wildlife Works brand of REDD+ that make it a successful model, the foundation of it all being job creation.
Organic Clothing Factory
The starting point of the wildlife works’ viable economic alternative project was setting up an eco-factory that produces organic casual apparel under the Wildlife Works label, sold worldwide by big brands among them Puma. All garments are carbon-neutral and made from organic and fair-trade cotton. The eco-factory originally hired seven local women but has hugely grown now and is responsible for over 80 employees; all members of the surrounding community. The factory has gone a long way in providing a sustainable alternative to destructive harvesting.
In order to assist the local communities in their move away from subsistence agriculture and deforestation, Wildlife Works has established an organic greenhouse, in addition to multiple nurseries with more in development. The nursery grows citrus trees and agro-forestry species such as Neem and Moringa oliefera to meet farmers’ medicinal, nutritional and fuel wood needs.
Each nursery, which employs approximately five people, is responsible for working with their immediate community to plan and implement the crops, while Wildlife Works provides training. In addition, the nurseries are building a business around Jojoba planting. The oil from Jojoba seeds is quite valuable and is used in the cosmetics industry and as biodiesel fuel. Community members are raising the plants in the nurseries to later plant and harvest. Wildlife Works on the other hand will assist in providing market links for the farmers to sell the seeds.
The local population’s need for farm land has also been addressed by the establishment of a land cooperative on 5,000 acres. The land set aside for the cooperative is land that had been cleared before Wildlife Works began its work.
Forest and Biodiversity Monitoring
Physical protection of the land in which the REDD+ project is set up is vital. The Kasigau Corridor REDD project is protecting 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of dryland forest which is under intense threat from slash and burn agriculture, as the local population expands. The Kasigau Corridor project is also home to five mammal species that are considered endangered, vulnerable or threatened: African elephant, cheetah, lion, African hunting dog and Grevy’s zebra.
To prevent illegal access into the project area and to ensure that the land is protected from deforestation, Wildlife Works has established several ranger stations around the project areas; each station with 8-12 rangers, recruited and trained from the local communities.
Working with a no-gun policy – but with the power of arrest granted by the local community, the Wildlife Rangers have received a lot of skepticism on whether or not they are fit to protect wildlife in their sanctuary especially considering the current Ivory poaching crisis in the country’s National Parks; an alarming number of elephants are losing their lives to poachers and Rukinga Sanctuary has not been spared either. Despite the fact, even with larger elephant populations, Mike believes his rangers fare well as any because they have such a strong relationship with the local communities who inform them of the comings and goings of possible poachers. They have the best intel based on the work they do with local communities.
Wildlife Works has also forged a good relationship and works side by side with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers who are armed with a shoot to kill policy, trained in combat, and who are permanently stationed within the sanctuary. Whenever there is an armed poaching incident, Wildlife Works’ rangers are trained to avoid any confrontation until they have KWS armed support, and even then they are not supposed to be in harm’s way if shots are fired. Over the course of 18 years, there has been only one incident where these rangers were fired upon.
There are nearly over 80 rangers in total employed by the project currently.
An additional activity of the project is a three year reforestation project on the slopes of Mt. Kasigau to plant 20,000 indigenous hardwood trees. These trees are not included in the emission reduction calculations, but it is a valuable initiative to help replace trees cut down for charcoal production and construction over the past years. The community members involved in the monitoring and implementation of the project are rewarded financially for helping to ensure its permanence.
Deforestation continues significantly in the area adjacent to the project today, illustrating that, in the absence of the project, this activity would still continue within the sanctuary.
Eco Charcoal and Fuel Wood
Charcoal burning is one of the activities carried out for economic sustenance in Taita Taveta County. In order to avoid wood being taken from the project area in an unsustainable and ecologically damaging way, Wildlife Works has initiated an extensive project to explore the large scale production of carbon neutral charcoal derived from bush trimmings, allowing the local community to be self-sufficient in fuel wood without having to degrade any of the land.
Social benefits: School Construction and Bursary Scheme
Prior to Wildlife Works arrival, the area in which the project is carried out had no schooling facilities or necessary amenities to ensure children gain a good education. Thanks to the project, they have already built 18 classrooms throughout the district and a partner has established a bursary programme which has sent dozens of children to high school. A plan is in place to send at least five new students a year through four-year secondary school programmes and on to college or university. A school construction and maintenance fund will provide funding every year to seed school construction and maintenance projects in the area.
Wildlife Works is also working on extending access to fresh water to the locals who previously had to send their children up to 15 miles to retrieve water several times a day. They have implemented a clean water supply for the schools using an innovative rainwater catchment system and manual rower pump to allow the children to retrieve the water for themselves from underground storage tanks.
Prior to Wildlife Works, the migration corridor had been lost to poaching and encroachment before the area residents were engaged in consumer powered conservation. Wildlife Works sees empowering local people with sustainable livelihoods as the key to protecting the forest in the long-term, and with these projects, the link between better livelihoods, conservation and wildlife works is clear.
The foundation was about finding solutions that lead to mutually beneficial co-existence. The work here has led to people being more enthusiastic and supportive of conservation, and has demonstrated that people can live alongside wildlife while developing sustainable livelihoods. The local communities want to protect the environment because it works for them, hence the name Wildlife Works.
In total, Wildlife Works today provides over 400 jobs to the local community and brings the benefits of direct carbon financing to nearly 150,000 people in the surrounding communities.