The DSWT invests considerable time and resources in creating collaborative and beneficial relationships with local communities bordering sensitive wildlife habitats and protected areas. The Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary (MES) is just one of these community initiatives the DSWT is involved in. Established some 20 years ago as one of the first community-owned wildlife sanctuaries in Kenya, the MES was created to help mitigate the escalating human- wildlife conflict in the Shimba Hills area, which is currently home to some 500 elephants.
The Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, the MES team and the DSWT are working together with the local communities in the area to find a balance between growing human-settlement and marginalised wildlife areas. Without such an alliance the Sanctuary and its wild inhabitants would have little chance of survival.
The Sanctuary today covers an area of some 32 km2 which joins the Shimba Hills National Park, of which one third of the Forest is government-owned and managed by the Sanctuary on behalf of the KFS, whilst additional buffer land is privately owned, predominantly by local subsistence farmers numbering in excess of 300. The only income from the land the farmers have allowed to be utilised by the Sanctuary, which covers approximately 3,500 acres, is from the annual compensation pay-out received from MES, which is now funded by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Further income for the local community is via the MES employees. Their salaries sustain their families, which in turn filter out into the community.
Compared to the adjoining Shimba Hills which covers 275km2, the Mwaluganje is relatively small yet despite its size it is still a hugely important wildlife corridor between the Mwaluganje Forest and the Shimba Hills. The Shimba Hills has historically been a thriving environment for elephants, especially for populations moving from the Tsavo ecosystem through the Taita Ranches towards lusher feeding grounds.
During 2014 the DSWT funded the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary to the sum of $20,000 to support both MES staff wages and the local land owner’s compensation pay-outs. This support has had the effect of encouraging others to support the Sanctuary and its activities whilst the KWS, since the DSWT’s involvement, has taken over the electric fence maintenance, showing that they see there is indeed a future for the Sanctuary.
The MES are proud to state that over the last year there has not been a single report of an elephant being poached within the Mwaluganje. This success is due in part to educating the communities, a positive financial impact on the local community and increased security patrols by the KWS, both on the ground and in the air.
The DSWT is proud to support this extremely worthwhile initiative and is continuing to provide financial assistance to the Sanctuary throughout 2015.