Kenya conservation work

Black rhino and zebra

Kenya is a country of diverse, rich habitats, home to many endemic and threatened species. It is also home to diverse peoples, with long traditions of living alongside wildlife, but often facing high levels of poverty.

ZSL works with local and national partners to conserve flagship species such as elephants and black rhino, and less well-known species. ZSL has worked with the Kenya Wildlife Service to conserve black rhino since 1989. Over time, ZSL’s involvement in Kenya has grown, and we are now engaged with many more conservation projects to protect threatened wildlife across the country.


Why we are there

Over the past 30 years, Kenya’s wildlife has declined significantly. This a result of illegal poaching (especially rhino and elephant), as well as habitat loss and degradation. The growing human population puts pressure on protected areas and wildlife corridors, leading to unsustainable use of natural resources and increased conflict between people and wildlife. Combined with growing impacts from more frequent droughts, this has affected livelihoods and increased poverty amongst rural Kenyans reliant on the environment for their wellbeing.


How is ZSL helping protect Kenya's wildlife?


Flagship species conservation

In thirty years of close collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service, ZSL has provided technical support and training to establish and support wildlife health programmes, patrol-based and camera-trap monitoring, habitat assessments, rhino translocation, intensive protection zones, and strategic planning for protected areas and critically endangered species, such as the black rhino, wild dogs, cheetah, elephant and hirola.

We have deepened our engagement with conservation projects through the country office we established in 2016. We are also pioneering innovative rhino impact investment to mobilise resources for conservation.


Community conservation

Increasingly, ZSL is engaging Kenyan communities in conservation. We have established new partnerships with local organisations that support and represent local communities around the Tsavo national parks. Together we are working to improve relationships between communities and park rangers and managers; to find new, sustainable ways of generating income and investing in livelihoods; and to engage local people as ‘community guardians’, protecting wildlife and crops.


Conservation monitoring, training and technology

ZSLs Clarine Kigoli with the Grevys Zebra Trust Samburu scouts on training patrol
ZSL's Clarine Kigoli with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust Samburu scouts on training patrol

Kenya’s ability to address threats is held back by a lack of resources and capacity. ZSL is working with various partners to improve conservation action and ecological monitoring effectiveness, through new technologies such as SMART and Instant Detect. ZSL has trained over 500 rangers in the use of SMART, and supported 16 partner organisations to implement SMART across 20,036km2 of conservation areas in Kenya. We have even delivered SMART training to Samburu warriors.

ZSL’s EDGE programme is also working to educate new conservationists in Kenya, while ZSL also works to influence international policies to protect Kenya’s species and disrupt wildlife trafficking networks.


Protecting extraordinary places

Kenya’s renowned wildlife and diverse ecosystems depend on protected areas for survival. More than 8% of Kenya’s land area is formally protected. These areas not only conserve endemic and threatened species, but sustain the growing tourism industry, vital for Kenya’s economy and a major source of employment.

The Boni-Dodori forest is one of Kenya’s last remaining coastal forests, home to unique species, including the rarest of Africa’s forest antelopes: Aders’ duiker. Political insecurity meant the forest’s biodiversity was poorly understood, but ZSL worked with partners to complete the first rigorous camera trapping assessment, discovering a new species of elephant shrew in the process.

ZSL has long worked in the Tsavo Conservation Area to protect the iconic black rhino; we are expanding our work to support local organisations and communities, to ensure that conservation benefits people as well as wildlife.


News and blogs

Counting lions in Tsavo (2019)

Tracking black rhinos in Tsavo (2018)

A Kenyan woman in conservation (2018)

A day in the life of ZSL’s Kenya country manager (2017)

Using conservation technology to monitor African wild dog (2017)

Largest ivory burn in history to take place in Kenya (2016)


Project information

Key Species

  • Black Rhino, Critically Endangered
  • African Elephant, Endangered
  • Hirola, Critically Endangered
  • Ader’s Duiker, Critically Endangered
  • African Wild Dog, Endangered
  • Cheetah, Critically Endangered

People involved

ZSL’s Rebecca Sennett Day and Raj Amin are two of the conservationists working on our Kenya projects

Clarine Kigoli is our global SMART user council representative and implements the technology across Africa from our Kenyan office

Moses Wekesa is our Field Manager in the Tsavo Conservation Area, and leads a team of 6 full time monitoring and implementation personnel

Steven Musau and Nelly Musyoka are our newest members heading up our community conservation programme


Partners & Sponsors

ZSL works alongside:

These projects are funded by grants from:


PDF icon Kenya Annual Report 2018 (8.63 MB)

PDF icon Kenya Annual Report 2017 (7 MB)

Aders Duiker

Protecting the Boni-Dodori Forest

The Kenyan coastal forests are globally recognised for their wealth in biodiversity and endemism. At the northern end of this unique and fragile ecosystem are the Boni and Dodori National Reserves. Established in 1976, these cover over 2000km2 – much of Kenya’s last remaining coastal forests. The reserves harbour unique and rare species, such as African wild dogs, the Aders’ duiker, hirola and the endemic golden-rumped sengi (a species of elephant shrew).

Yet the area’s importance was only recognized recently due to its political insecurity and inaccessibility. It still remains primarily intact but is at great risk from forest degradation and threats of development. Urgent action is needed to preserve it, while allowing it to be used in a sustainable way by the indigenous communities.


Monitoring and conserving critically endangered antelopes

Aders' duiker

Aders’ duiker (Cephalophus adersi) is the rarest of Africa’s forest antelopes, endemic to the forests of East Africa. It is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and hunting for bushmeat. Over the last 20 years the estimated number of Aders' duikers has fallen by around 80%, from 5000 individuals to around 1000.

Until recently, the Ader’s duiker was known only from several other coastal locations in Kenya, but was sighted for the first time in 2004 by a ZSL and Kenyan Wildlife Service team in Dodori forest. These partners, with Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, carried out a rapid survey in 2008 to establish its distribution. The survey identified the Boni-Dodori forest as a potential stronghold for the Ader’s duiker, and so a globally important area for conservation.

With our partners, ZSL did further in-depth surveys of the forests, so that Boni-Dodori's biodiversity could be understood and better protected. In 2010, ZSL, Kenya Wildlife Service, WWF and Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, set up camera traps around the Boni-Dodori region and in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest National Reserve. Just under 63,000 images were collected, revealing 40 mammal species, including a potentially new species of giant sengi (Macroscelidea).

The hirola

Another Critically Endangered antelope also survives in the Boni-Dodori forests: the hirola (Beatragus hunteri). The hirola is unique - this is the sole representative of its group – but just 400-500 remain. It is at risk of becoming the first extinction of a mammalian genus on mainland Africa in more than 100 years.

Over eighteen months, field-workers identified seven herds of hirola, and successfully fitted adult hirola with GPS collars to record vital information on group movements and behaviours.

Our findings have has provided new impetus for local conservation organisations in Kenya to increase their efforts to protect and understand this important centre of African coastal equatorial endemism.



ZSL has worked alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service to protect threatened species in the Tsavo Conservation Area for decades. More recently, we have expanded our partnerships to local chiefs and organisations, and together we are working to ensure that conservation also benefits and integrates communities.


Protecting the black rhino and Kenya’s flagship species

The blBlack Rhinoack rhinoceros is Critically Endangered, having suffered a catastrophic decline, both in numbers and in range. Rampant poaching for the illegal trade in rhino horn continues to be an existential threat for all rhinos. Like other large charismatic herbivores, rhinos require large areas to support populations. As a result, they act as ‘umbrella species,’ because their successful conservation benefits the many other species that share their habitat.

Kenya has significant numbers of black rhinos, making it central to the global conservation effort. However, between 1970 and 1990, the number of black rhinos in Kenya plummeted from over 20,000 to just 350.

In response, ZSL and Kenyan partners invested heavily in the conservation of this natural treasure. We moved rhinos from high-risk areas into secure, confined sanctuaries, to minimise poaching and maximise the rhinos’ breeding potential. This allowed the population to begin rising slowly, and there are now over 700 black rhinos in Kenya.

Kenya’s largest protected area complex – the Tsavo Conservation Area – is home to Kenya’s largest black rhino and elephant populations and important populations of lion, hyena, African wild dog, and cheetah. We have supported a new rhino sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park, while continuing to support an Intensive Protection Zone in Tsavo West National Park.

For over 30 years, ZSL has supported the Kenya Wildlife Service in its mission to conserve, protect and manage Kenya’s threatened species. We work with different partners (listed on the right) to find innovative ways to fight the illegal wildlife trade, including Instant Wild and SMART monitoring tools, and test an innovative Rhino Impact Investment mechanism, to raise finance to secure rhino populations.


Supporting Tsavo communities

On the northern edge of Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, either side of the Mombasa-Nairobi highway, two communities form a buffer and gateway into the parks. Roughly 5,000 Kamba tribal residents of Mangalete and Kamungi rely heavily on very fragile, limited natural resources, and are vulnerable to increasingly frequent droughts. Loss of crops to elephants, and livestock to lion, hyena, wild dog and leopard compound farmers’ vulnerability.

With very few opportunities to earn an income, and no access to savings schemes, people often resort to wildlife crime, including bushmeat hunting and poaching.

ZSL Moses Wekesa addresses Mangelete community
ZSL's Moses Wekesa addresses Mangelete community

Understandably, few people in these communities feel positive about the national parks on their doorsteps. However, local organisations are trying to reduce the burden of living alongside a national park, and ZSL is increasingly involved:

  • To create the foundations for sustainable livelihoods, ZSL is working with community chiefs, and local partner Five Talents, to establish community-banking groups in Mangalete and Kamungi.
  • ZSL is also working to ensure that people have a wider range of livelihood options, and can decide what will work best for them. We are partnering with Wildlife Works to increase farm productivity, and support new small businesses such as soap manufacturing and baobab oil production. 
  • We are establishing a joint team with the Tsavo Trust, to work with communities to map hotspots of human-wildlife conflict and implement practical strategies (such as bee-hive fencing) with the worst-affected households.
  • To engage people in conservation and build relationships with the national parks, we are training community scouts to disrupt and deter wildlife crime.
  • In each village, the community banking meetings are ideal opportunities to talk more about conservation as well as the new livelihoods opportunities, and to discourage the communities from providing a gateway for poachers.

These activities are designed to combine to bring down the cost of living alongside wildlife and support legal and sustainable livelihoods, helping to improve the lives of vulnerable people.