A wildlife ranch at the coast is looking for new opportunities in research because of plummeting fortunes in Safari tourism.
Galala Kulalu conservancy, which borders the Tsavo East National Park, has already partnered with several universities in its new endeavor as centre for wildlife research.
The conservancy covers more than 60,000 hectares and is home to all the big five animals except the rhino, which was poached to extinction there.
Currently, eight species of wildlife at the ranch are also endangered. These include elephants, stripped hyena, Geoenvik, cheetah, Tsavo Lions, Peteos gazelles, pangoline and hippos.
The stripped hyena is unique and is only found in the conservancy, which was created by Galana ADC Kulalu ranch for wildlife attraction.
Many Kenyans may have for decades known Galana ADC ranch for cattle keeping and agriculture.
The conservancy is now manned by five staff including one warden and four scouts.
Before the last travel advisories by the US and the UK were issued, the area used to host a large number of tourists due to its location and nearness to Tsavo.
But tourist numbers have now plummeted.
The new headquarters for the conservancy is Kulalu camp, where all research operations are now planned. Irish research John Byne is currently based there, researching on the wild animals in the conservancy.
He says they have installed cameras at key routes used by wildlife to River Galana for water. Preliminary research shows there are many animals that require protection.
Byne says a Kenyan university and another one in Ireland have agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding for students to do research at the conservancy.
The MoU between Pwani University and University College of Durban, Ireland will see masters and PhD students work at Galana and at the Watamu Marine National Park.
“We want to use the conservancy as a learning area. We invite students to do research and we shall also be promoting tourism,’’ he said. “Galana conservancy is important for Kenya, covering 60,000 hectares there are many challenges facing it.’’
He says there is need for roads in the ranch to be improved and strict monitoring of the boundary enforced to prevent cattle from accessing the conservancy.
Fidelius Muchira, the warden at the conservancy who formerly worked with KWS, says their mandate is to provide security to animals and visitors in the conservancy.
He says they also gather information on sick animals and report to KWS authorities in Tsavo east for them to be treated.
Muchira however says they are faced with many challenges including movement of livestock in the conservancy.
“The conservancy is good for tourists, there are also unique birds found here. Wildlife usually flock in here during dry season and return to the park when during rainy season,’’ he says.
Currently, he says, they do not receive many visitors and they rely on only three camps.
Since 2013 when Muchira begun working at the conservancy, poaching has gone down but poachers still target dik diks, impala and other small animals for bush-meat.
He says there are General Service Unit personnel, KWS and ADC scouts who provide security.
“The new board of the conservancy intends to increase the number of scouts because of the nature of the work and we target to have 30 scouts in five years,’’ he said.
The conservancy charges tourists lower rates than the national parks. Foreigners pay US$30 (Sh2,900), residents Sh700 while Kenyans pay Sh200.
The warden says they used to collect more than Sh400,000 per month but since insecurity at the coast escalated the figure has reduced to less than Sh150,000 a month.
Normally, the income is shared equally with the ADC.
He says they will increase vehicles, staff, and set up observation points to help in anti-poaching activities.
Byne says the ranch is one of the best areas for research in Kenya and should be protected.
“We shall also set up water points within the conservancy to enable wildlife access the commodity easily without moving to the river,’’ he says. “It’s important that the wildlife is protected, it’s a heritage that’s need to be passed from generation to generation.’’
They will also conduct research on challenges facing animals both residents – who are permanently in the conservancy- and those on transit.