Wildlife and people in Tsavo

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.