AMBOSELI: “Superb starling: two”, “peak of Nubia: one”… Planted in the middle of the Kenyan savannah, two men count the birds, with Kilimanjaro in the background. This pilot program in the Selenkay Private Reserve aims to measure the natural wealth and to one day generate new income from it, in addition to tourism.
The camp’s ten luxurious tents see tourists flocking again, after the shutdown linked to Covid-19. They observe in small groups elephants, giraffes, antelopes or lions on 5,000 hectares, located on the edge of Amboseli National Park, in the south of the country, and have a glimpse of the life of the Masai, the owners of the land.
The reserve “is not isolated from the communities, it belongs to them”, insists a camp manager, Daniel Mamai. No fence separates it from land used by herders for their cows, sheep, goats and donkeys.
“With Covid-19, tourism completely collapsed and we realized that we needed to find other ways to increase revenue to continue paying rents” to the Masai, Mohanjeet Brar told AFP. , the general manager of Gamewatchers safaris, land tenant and reserve manager.
One of the avenues consists in measuring the quantity of carbon stored by vegetation and soils as well as the biological richness of their reserves, in order to derive carbon and biodiversity credits.
“We want to understand what a healthy grassland ecosystem is and how to monetize certain aspects of it,” says Mohanjeet Brar.
A company could thus offset its CO2 emissions or its polluting activities. If the market for carbon credits is well established, although far from perfect, that for biodiversity credits remains to be created.
Absence of rain
Andrew Davies, a researcher at the American University of Harvard who is taking part in the project, is interested in “the relationship between carbon, plant structure, ecosystem integrity and biodiversity”, he explains to AFP .
To better understand these interactions, the amount of carbon stored in trees and in the soil is measured, in particular with a drone. On the biodiversity side, cameras and acoustic recorders placed inside and outside the reserve make it possible to see which animals are present, and their density.
A visual observation completes the device. For a month, morning and evening, members of the team are stationed at specific points and raise all the animals seen and heard for 10 minutes. “We need data,” says one of the guides, Nicholas Koyieyo, noting a fresh giraffe track on the cracked, dusty ground, craving for rain.
“Is biodiversity greater inside or outside the reserve, and what is driving that growth? Once we know that from a scientific perspective, we can think about making it a credit to sell,” says Andrew Davies.
Initially, it is a question of selling carbon credits because the market is in place and the Masai will quickly see the fruits, he continues. Secondly, the zoologist hopes that biodiversity credits will be sold.
“Our goal is that at least 60% (of the revenue from carbon credits) goes to landowners,” says Mohanjeet Brar.
Gamewatchers Safaris provides income to the Masai through the rental of land, employment – all of the rangers and almost all of Selenkay’s crew – and even water for residents and livestock.
But living conditions are difficult, as pointed out by Noolasho Keteko, one of the women from the Masai village bordering the reserve. The cropped-haired mother of eight, adorned with colorful bead jewelry, also earns money from tourist visits to the mud hut village and from selling jewelry.
But the camp closes in April and May for the rainy season and the village would then need assistance, she explains.
With the additional income from carbon and biodiversity credits, herders could reduce the number of cattle, “this would allow more time for the grass and the trees to regenerate and we would have a more balanced ecosystem in and outside of reserve,” said Nicholas Koyieyo.
They also want to prevent the land from being sold, turned into fields and fenced off, preventing wildlife from moving freely. A few kilometers from the reserve, a high fence already bars the landscape to make way for fields.
Tourists, on the other hand, enjoy the spectacle of a dozen elephants quenching their thirst at a water point, without necessarily being aware of all these issues. But for Maxine Gardner, a 69-year-old American retiree, her stay in Selenkay allowed her to be more “aware of our impact” on nature.
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