The Garissa Community Giraffe sanctuary (GCGS) falls within the immediate sub urban environment of Garissa Town bordering the dry dusty Bour-Algi village. The Village located 3 KM south of Garissa Town, found itself, in the early 1990s, at the centre of a surprising influx of giraffes. These were internally displaced and migrants giraffes from the border areas, that run for safety following the collapse of the republic of Somalia. With exceptional reception, more giraffe continued to arrive from far areas of Garissa district and Somalia where poaching was still rampant. Initially 30 individuals arrived and in less than 4 years, the Giraffe population in the Sanctuary had increased to over 300 individuals. Currently, the giraffes are the most visible beneficiaries of the tolerance of local people becoming so habituated to a human presence they could be seen browsing from the tops of the abundant Acacia tortilis that dot the area. The giraffes move freely within human settlement, or stoop to drink from close to where the local women are drawing water. Villagers came to view these giraffes –now nearly 400 of them, treating them with respect as fellow members of the community. Many tourists particularly UN and the strong NGO work force in the area flock the area occasionally, dumbfounded by extraordinary acquaintance of trust that seems to have developed between these giraffes and the locals.
It was the year 1995 when four community members formed community based organisation at village level to offer protection not just for the giraffes, but for other mammals as well. The group lead by Mr. Hassan Afey became a strong voluntary force and proved to be remarkably dedicated in undertaking regular wildlife patrols and desnaring sweeps. The concluded Trans-boundary Environmental Project (TEP), funded by the European Commission and implemented by Terra Nuova in association with Arid lands, has – since June 2003- supported the first phase of the sanctuary, where the sanctuary was transformed from single CBO affair to a participatory community owned project. A number of activities were done including stakeholder’s analysis, exposure tours, and organization capacity assessment leading to the formation of strong interim management committee, appointment of 14 community scouts and formal recognition of the sanctuary by both KWS and the county council of Garissa and the subsequently receiving of a registration certificate. With these efforts, more members were recruited from neighbouring villagers mainly; Annam, Qabobey, Bula Wanawake, Jarirot, Hanjoley, Bour Algi, and Bula Sheikahmed leading to a broad acceptance and appreciation of conservation and ecotourism among the pastoral Somalis. The livelihood activities for these communities include: charcoal burning, livestock rearing & trade, quarrying / sand harvesting, fuel wood sales , building poles harvesting, poaching among others. Since Terra Nuova left in September 2007, I remained with the community and currently work as a volunteer, working closely with the sanctuary warden and the board of directors. Based on my experience in community issues and being a member of this community, I try very much to link and network on behave of the community and the giraffes through my online diary that links front line of conservation to the rest of the world. I update and maintain the sanctuary blog hosted by the WildlifeDirect organisation to create awareness and fundraise from well wishers: (www.giraffesanctuary.willdlifedirect.org). I also manage all of the Giraffe Sanctuary activities and co-ordinate official visits from government agencies, donors, film crews, journalists, researchers, NGO’s and other approved official guests. Most of all I develop project proposals and manage the 14 Scouts and other support staffs in liaison with sanctuary Warden. I have so far managed to get one laptop from this initiative and raised some little cash which need not mange to meet the needs and the requirement of the sanctuary.
Wildlife and Ecotourism Potential of the area Wildlife & Habitat diversity
The area is an Acacia-Commiphora dominated woodland with scattered bushes / thickets. Apart from the Reticulated Giraffe (estimated at 400 individuals), other wildlife species include; Gerenuk, Lesser Kudu, Cheetah, Hippopotamus, Guinea fowls & other passerine species of birds, Common Zebra, Warthog (declining population due to poaching), Ostriches (Somali race), Hyena ( common and stripped), Lions among others. Two critically endangered species mainly Grevys Zebra and the African wild dogs have been occasionally reported.
Ecotourism products and potential
Natural resources (forest, wildlife, water among others) are inherent and appropriate targets from which Communities can derive livelihood improvement and income generation activities that can have a positive long-term impact on poverty with a significant contribution to the millennium development goals. The establishment of the Garissa Giraffe Sanctuary will be a deliberate venture to develop a nature based business that will contribute towards uplifting the economic status of the Bor – Algi community in tandem with the MDG goal –1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger currently rated at 58% in Garissa with 73% rural and 65% Urban (ref). The income generated from the project will enable parents afford education for the children many of who are not attending school or have dropped out of school. The literacy rate of 15 – 24 years olds in the area stands at 26.1% with the average years of school attendance being 4 years. The area has a great potential for natural resource exploitation for alternative incomes by the communities, especially in rural pastoral areas and at the same time involving communities in natural resources management and conservation, hence ensuring sustainable use of natural resources by communities living adjacent to it. Some of the unique ecotourism products that can be developed in this area include: Camp sites, Botanical gardens, Somali cultural museum / centre, nature trails, camel rides, boat riding, cultural bandas as well as the famous religious festivals such as the Eid and Moulidi festivals which are huge attractions in areas like Lamu and Zanzibar. The Bour – Algi community has many active women with a rich cultural heritage that can be used to develop outstanding cultural products e.g. craft village, cultural centre that will bring women on board ensuring incomes to support the household economy and provide education for the girl child, thus realizing the MDG goal – 3 Genders Equity and Empowerment Of Women. Currently in Garissa, Female Net Enrolment ratio stands at 7.4% with Female Primary School Transition rate 45.1 % (MDG Profile data for Garissa 2003 -2005).
Current situation and Challenges ahead
Currently in this unique wildlife habitat yet a potential ecotourism hotspot, has not being exploited to benefit the local’s despites securing the land to conserve the existing wildlife and habitat diversity. There is no development plan in place to direct settlement and safe guard the existing ecological diversity. The proposed sanctuary area is a trust land held in trust for the local community by the Garissa County Council (GCC) as provided by Cap 208 of the laws of Kenya. Several efforts have been made by the TEP in collaboration with local CBOs and other partners like NEMA, KWS, WCK, geared towards environmental education campaigns and active ecological data gathering & monitoring to create awareness among stakeholders and local community on the threats to existing rich wildlife and habitat diversity. However, the fact that the sanctuary does not generate any income to the locals is a major setback in wining their support. Instead, communities members engage in unsustainable land and resources utilisation practises. Most evident are; charcoal burning targeting the Acacia trees, over grazing, blockage of access routes for wildlife and livestock to watering points by farming community, increasing human settlement in the area and wood and fuel wood harvesting. Also key catchments areas are under threat from uncontrolled grazing and human settlement. Despite the unique location of the sanctuary and accessibility (the main road from Garissa to Ijara), the area lacks a developed tourism support infrastructure and neither does it fall within an established tourism circuit. Albeit, the area is occasionally frequented by the curious tourists and no levies are charged neither. As a manager and supporter of this initiative, this makes me a worried man.
Appeal for Assistance – Support and Implementation of the Next Phase of the Sanctuary.
Following the conclusion of the Terra Nuova project, activities in the sanctuary have been stand still, simply due to the fact that we were not able to attract the attention many donor organisation in the area that are concentrating on the humanitarian and the refugee crisis in Garissa district. The key thematic areas that will form basis for the next phase of the sanctuary and are of highest priority include:
- Capacity building ( Physical and Human resource development
- Development of tourism related infrastructure and livelihood programmes
- Building Networks and Partnerships for the sanctuary and ecotourism products.
- Establishment of ecological monitoring and research unit in the sanctuary.
On behalf of the community and the sanctuary, I would like to appeal to interested organisations, well wishers and individuals to come to the rescue of this sanctuary and secure the land for the giraffes. You can reach us using the details provided below.
Ali A Hussein, Sanctuary Manager,Garissa Community Giraffe Sanctuary,
P.O. Box 993 • 70100, Garissa, Kenya.Mobile: +254 722 772113