By Vivian Jebet
Kenya might be the eighth country in Africa to have two of its game reserves managed by a conservation firm if the Isiolo County government and local stakeholders strike a deal.
In an effort to allay fears and involve local communities in plans to revive the reserves and to offer new management, the county government over the weekend took 22 stakeholders on a tour of the Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
Stakeholders including NGO officials, elders and representatives of the defunct county council, toured the park located in Kayonza District to inquire on how African Parks, a South African firm, is managing wildlife conservation.
If the stakeholders agree, local communities will be sensitised on the county government’s plans to enter into a public-private partnership with the firm for it to manage and revive Shaba and Buffalo Springs national reserves, the leading northern tourist circuits.
The county government plans to form a company together with African Parks which will be run by a board with shareholding split between the county and the firm.
Buffalo Springs and Shaba reserves measure 131 and 245 square kilometres respectively.
African Parks is a non-profitable organisation which manages and revives deteriorating parks and reserves in Africa.
The firm also manages game parks in Chad (1), Malawi (3), Zambia (2), Central Africa Republic (1), Democratic Republic of Congo (1) and Rwanda (1).
The Isiolo team was told the company may enter into between five to 20-year agreement with the county government where the firm will pump in funds to improve infrastructure and revive the parks to make them profitable.
Apart from financing, the firm will also offer development, operations and management of the two parks on contractual basis.
The group led by Tourism Executive Suleiman Shunu and Akagera Park manager Jes Gruner also visited communities around the park to inquire on how they have benefited from the improved tourism.
Mr Shunu said the county government is seeking external help to fence the reserves and make them secure, streamline management, improve infrastructure and market them globally.
“Our parks will be managed by a board which will comprise members of the community and the contracted firm,” said Mr Shunu.
“We (county government) want to engage locals in our decision to enter into public-private partnership with a competent organisation to revive our “dead” reserves. Locals are free to either accept or reject our offer,” he added.
Officials of the Friends of Isiolo Game Reserves, a lobby group opposing the county government’s plans, confirmed that they will deliberate on the matter and will release their statement later.
Isiolo Governor Godana Doyo, who is spearheading the plan, said he was satisfied with the management work by the firm, saying he will lobby communities to support his administration to implement the plan.
Mr Grunner said the firm has partnered with the Rwanda Development Board (RBD) to form a company called the Akagera Management Company (AMC) which manages the park, saying the county government can choose the same model.
He said poaching and illegal grazing have been eliminated, adding that revenue collection and the population of wildlife have drastically increased.
“Following the 1994 Rwanda genocide, there was no wildlife in the park since poachers had invaded the park. But since we’ve put up an electric fence around the park and employed trained rangers we can monitor the movement of all our wildlife,” said the manager.
The park has four of the big five and is planning to introduce black rhinos.