Read time – 6 minutes

In recognition of World Elephant Day on 12th August, we’re taking a look at the progress of our Free to Roam Project, which the Exodus Travels Foundation launched in 2021 in partnership with the Tsavo Trust and Tofauti on the borders of Tsavo National Park, Kenya.

All wildlife plays a role in supporting our ecosystems, and Elephants are no different. Not only are they highly sensitive, caring and intelligent, but they also create pathways in forested habitats for wildlife passage. Their large footprints (when filled with water), create micro-systems, that offer habitats for tadpoles and other living organisms to thrive. These are some of the reasons why it’s essential that we do everything we can to protect and preserve Elephants.  

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

Stretching over 13,000 km2, Tsavo National Park is the largest of its kind in Kenya. Situated between Nairobi City and Mombasa, this park is home to the country’s largest population of Elephants and a fifth of its Black Rhino population. Across its wooded grasslands and rugged landscapes, are a number of endangered species such as the hirola antelope, Grevy’s zebra, wild dog and cheetah. Given this incredible melting pot of wildlife, it is all the more important to conserve and protect this extraordinary region. This is why the Exodus Travels Foundation are supporting Tsavo Trust and Tofauti to give Elephants and other wildlife more space to roam and empower local communities.

Kenya’s economy was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which, coupled with a rise in fuel prices, hit the locals living in rural areas (such as Tsavo National Park) particularly hard. In the Shirango Conservancy, 90% of households currently live below the poverty line and food security is decreasing. This problem was exacerbated by crops being raided by wildlife such as Elephants, Dik diks and Impalas, which sadly led to growing frustration and increased instances of human-wildlife conflict.

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

The Free to Roam project, aims to reduce human-wildlife conflict and educate local people on the benefits of wildlife conservation through the introduction of the 10% Fence Plan. Building these fences gave local people more peace of mind and the opportunity to undertake permaculture training which will increase food security. The fences help reduce poaching and create a secure buffer area for wildlife to explore and promote peaceful coexistence.

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

The Exodus Travels Foundation renews support for the Free to Roam Project

Following the incredible success of the 10% fence plan in the Kamungi conservancy, the Exodus Travels Foundation is pleased to continue supporting another phase of the project, to construct two additional fences in the Shirango conservancy in Tsavo East National Park.

Kyalo Ndeto, a Kamungi Conservancy member was keen to share her experience as a beneficiary of the project, “With the new Kamungi Conservancy in place, we’ve seen the wildlife population increase and community lives have steadily improved. In the past, community members used to poach for bushmeat and have negative attitudes towards wildlife, especially elephants, but because of the increased awareness of the benefits that wildlife conservation can bring, wildlife is not just tolerated on community land, there’s a sense of harmony, with locals and wildlife living together. ”

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

The success of the project so far

The Free to Roam Project aims to benefit the Shirango Community, which borders the southern boundary of Tsavo East National Park. This community is home to 346 households (approx. 10 members per household) and is formed on the communal lands of the Watha and Giriama people.

Alongside the construction of the fences, Tsavo Trust is also helping to support the community to secure communal title to their land. They are also striving to build strong partnerships with Kenya Wildlife Services, which focuses on anti-poaching operations. Through joint efforts working with the community and local authorities, Tsavo Trust has helped to reduce poaching, logging, and charcoal production in these areas. Socio-economic surveys that were conducted based on the construction of the Kamungi Conservancy fences, recorded a 148% average increase in crop harvest for three farmers. There were also 0 incidents of Human Elephant Conflict reported by the three fence beneficiaries and they are still reporting 0% damage to crops from Elephants.

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

How Tsavo Trust are overcoming challenges

This incredible project hasn’t been without challenges, such as conflicts of interest between the community and local authorities. Tsavo Trust has been supporting local people every step of the way to build relationships with key stakeholders and fight for this project to be implemented.

The main concern was land tenure, as the land surrounding the park is a mixture of public, private, trust and degazetted land from national reserves. The trust and degazetted lands are subject to insecure tenure regimes, making them vulnerable to land grabs, conversion of land to incompatible land uses, and political interference.

These lands are a prime target for livestock tycoons seeking to set up privately run livestock ranches, large-scale farmers, agribusinesses, commercial developers, and community leaders seeking to promote individual ownership of land as a means to promote their economic and political interests. Tsavo Trust’s conservation initiatives are threatened by incompatible land uses, and a lack of proper land-use planning and natural resource management.

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

Through consistent re-engagement with the local administration (following the National Kenya elections),Tsavo Trust has been working alongside the Shirango community leaders, the Kilifi County Government, the local government Administration, and village elders to secure land tenure for the people of Shirango.  Although this area has been formally registered as Community Land, before it changed hands back into Government-owned Land, Tsavo Trust is working to conduct an official land survey so that parcels of land with their respective title deeds can be issued to the community themselves.

This will allow the procurement and transporting of materials to Shirango and then the construction of the 2 fences. In addition, Tsavo Trust will carry out periodic progress evaluations and continue to collect human-wildlife conflict data.

The Free to Roam Project: One Year On

A message from Tsavo Trust CEO

When asked about the progress of the Free to Roam Project, CEO of Tsavo Trust, Richard Moller, commented, “The 10% fence plan, provides a very real, tried and tested model to mitigate such HWC threats to local communities who border protected areas. It provides an option, where there are very few, for people to coexist with wildlife. Even large wild animals such as elephants.” 

He continues, “There are real-time examples today of landowners who enjoy the 10% fence plan, free from human-wildlife conflict, and are able to grow enough food crops on their land year-round. A stark contrast to historically where family members have lost their lives through wildlife conflict, a situation where it was impossible to grow any meaningful crop yield and the perception towards wildlife was very negative. The 10% fence plan has turned this around in an unbelievably short space of time. We at Tsavo Trust and the communities we work alongside are hugely grateful to Exodus Travels Foundation and Tofauti for their generous support. Asante sana (thank you)!”

Exodus passionately believe in improving life through travel, for the people we meet, the places we visit and the planet we explore, and being able to support the Free to Roam Project has been an incredibly rewarding journey. The positive stories from the community members and the sharp decrease in human-wildlife conflicts show that this conservation model has the potential to be replicated in other national parks in Africa and possibly around the world. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Tsavo Trust and encourage our community of travellers to donate to the cause.