The Conservancy Concept is predicated on some simple dynamics. They are different to national reserves, or national parks in that they are not government run and when done properly, they create a win-win-win for wildlife, the community and tourists. That’s the theory at least, so in 2012, in order to put the theory to the test I carried a proof-of-concept evaluation at the Ol Kinyei Conservancy adjacent to the Maasai Mara.

By working closely with communities living alongside national parks and wildlife reserves, community land is set aside for wildlife so that it can be used for low impact sustainable ecotourism. Land that is often overgrazed is soon restored to its natural state and this leads to increased wildlife numbers and the creation of vital dispersal areas outside the national parks.

The Ol Kinyei Conservancy which was the first of the Mara Conservancies was chosen to be the basis of this proof-of-concept research project

The proposition tested was that Conservancies lead to a “win-win-win” situation by making significant contributions towards wildlife conservation, preventing habitat destruction, increasing eco-tourism and economic activity. This in turn benefits local communities.

A critical imperative for the theory of change is increased wildlife numbers and this was the key focus of the field research.

The research proved that wildlife numbers were significantly higher in the established conservancy areas when compared to inherently similar and adjacent habitats where the conservancy was not established. Habitat is restored and increased wildlife and a special visitor experience leads to increased ecotourism and the evidence of the research showed that the success of eco-tourism has tangible benefits to the local community.

There has been concern that the word “conservancy” is seen as controversial by some who have associated it with land grabbing and not being of real benefit to local communities. As with most initiatives, there are good and bad examples and it is recognised that in some limited cases the models have not been well designed and implemented. In these cases, they have not delivered on the expected outcomes and some of the impact has been negative. However, it would be harmful if those who are concerned about the future of wildlife, wild places and local communities allow successful and proven models to be tarred with the same brush. In the case of the Mara Conservancies, habitat restoration, the increase in wildlife numbers and the return of species to areas that were abandoned by them; together with the increase in ecotourism and the demonstrable benefits to the local community has been critical in delivering the win-win-win situation discussed earlier.

It is important to emphasise that the land laws mean that individuals are empowered to decide whether they want their land to be part of the conservancy – they cannot be evicted. The Conservancy model discussed in this report relies on the active involvement of the local communities – they are involved in identifying the area that will be included in the conservancy and become real stakeholders. The fact that the communities themselves want to expand the areas of the conservancies is a testament to the fact that they see it as working for them.