Game plan to get financial backstop for Maasai-owned reserve

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The bird count gets under way – two members of the superb starling family, a Nubian woodpecker, and so on.

The census unfolding in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro is part of a project with a dual aim: using biodiversity to make money, which will then help to preserve natural resources and support local communities.

The 5 000-hectare terrain on the edge of Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya boasts elephants, giraffes, antelopes and lions. The reserve’s owners are the Maasai people, and no fence separates the land from territory used by herders for their cows, sheep, goats and donkeys.

These days, well-heeled visitors are returning to the reserve after the Covid pandemic, which had wrenching financial consequences.

“Tourism completely collapsed, and we realised that we need to find other ways of rising revenue and income to be able to continue paying the leases,” said Mohanjeet Brar, of Gamewatchers Safaris, which rents Selenkay from the Maasai.

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The reserve has an eye on the potential from carbon credits and planned biodiversity credits – mechanisms designed to channel funds to land owners who preserve natural hotspots for rare species and carbon storage. For Selenkay, the first step towards realising these gains is to collect data.

Cameras and acoustic recorders are being used to give an idea of which animals are present on the reserve and in what numbers, and these are supplemented by human observations.

“Is biodiversity higher in the conservancy than outside the conservancy and what’s driving that increase?” said Andrew Davies, an assistant professor at Harvard University in the United States, who is helping with the research.

“Once we know that from a scientific perspective, we can begin thinking about making a credit to sell.”

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