Twiga Walinzi vehicles – A community and wildlife lifeline

Symon Masiaine

Transportation is an important social determinant of health in the remote rural communities that share space with wildlife in northern Kenya. The availability of reliable transportation impacts a community’s ability to access healthcare, livestock markets, food, etc. Through the kind support of SDZG donors and through the Twiga Walinzi Initiative, we have been able to provide three vehicles, that are now being used around northern Kenya for conservation, research, and community assistance. 

We asked Symon Masiaine, coordinator of our Twiga Walinzi (Giraffe Guards) team, to share some perspectives on the impact that the Twiga Walinzi vehicles have had on conservation and for communities in the areas where we work. Symon summarized the impacts that these vehicles have had:

Twiga Walinzi vehicles have been able to assist the elderly and people with disabilities in moving from one village to another, and also transporting expectant mothers to clinics. There have been several cases of mamas [traditional term for women of a certain age group] almost giving birth in the vehicle at both of our study sites!

In addition, during the course of conducting wildlife research or community interviews, the team is often asked to help take a sick child/infant, a wounded herder, or an elder to a clinic nearby. We have also used the vehicles to transport the students in our wildlife clubs to conservancies to be able to go on safari and see wildlife first hand.

Part I: Loisaba Conservancy Twiga Walinzi Vehicle

Two particular stories come to mind highlighting the impacts of these vehicles have had in the communities around Loisaba: 

On one occasion a community member was riding his boda boda [motorcycle] very fast and fell very badly. Both his legs were broken and he could not help himself at all. We came upon him on our way back to Loisaba and were able to detour and transport him to a clinic in Waso (a small community on the outskirts of Loisaba Conservancy).

Another time, after having finished the day’s duty of human dimension surveys in a community called Ilmotiok, we were stopped on the road by two mamas, one heavily pregnant and one that was walking with her. Upon approaching them, we realized that the mama was in labor and about to deliver!

They asked if we could help them get to a hospital so I hurriedly helped her in the vehicle and turned towards Kimanjo Hospital. However, on our way her labor became more serious and because I was not ready to help deliver, I rushed and got her to the hospital just before she gave birth! Just 3 minutes after our arrival she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy named “Symon”. If we didn’t have the vehicle she would have delivered on the road!

Part II: Namunyak Conservancy Twiga Walinzi vehicles

The first vehicle the Namunyak-based TW team acquired was a Toyota Land Cruiser specifically for the northern Namunyak unit, Kalepo. This area desperately needed a vehicle as the unit did not have a vehicle for operations including for anti-poaching poaching patrols.

Thankfully, due to SDZG fundraising efforts, we were able to provide a vehicle to the Kalepo Unit to help with elephant monitoring and to help curb illegal poaching in the area. 

Before the vehicle was brought, there was high records of poaching of elephant and other ungulates like giraffe and impala. But now, the presence of this vehicle has made it easy for the rangers to make wide patrols on daily basis across Kalepo’s vast landscape. The security team can now not only prevent poaching incidents, but also trace the poachers, and help the police in helping in looking for thieves and livestock raiders.

In times of emergencies, this vehicle is a savior. The coming of this vehicle was like a safety light elevated at the middle of an unsecured village. Not only did this vehicle help vital conservancy operations, but also provided critical assistance to the community. People from Kalepo can now access hospitals which they couldn’t before. Getting to board meetings in other places like the Northern Rangelands Trust headquarters and other far places is no longer an issue to the Kalepo Trustees. 

Recently, we were able to purchase a second vehicle, a Suzuki Maruti, a slightly smaller vehicle compared to the Land Cruisers. For the first three years of the program, the Namunyak Twiga Walinzi team did not have not have a vehicle. The team had to track giraffe on foot and walk for long distances, crisscrossing the monitoring blocks of the conservancy, crossing and going along rivers, visiting one village after another, bush camping at different places in the Conservancy, and sometimes sleeping in various community member’s manyattas [a traditional hut].

All these in a bid to collect the vital giraffe data for the conservation efforts. After long cries and hard prayers, SDZG donors answered the call, and the Suzuki was in Namunyak Conservancy. 

This vehicle was a massive relief to our team’s conservation efforts. With this transport our efforts are now doubled. We now can get clear and closer photos of giraffes, reach every village and respond to incidents, expand the range of our research, as well as conduct new research that was not possible before, like road surveys to monitor giraffe along the highway.

Additionally, we are able to travel more frequently to schools and communities in the region for our ongoing education programs and wildlife clubs. 

Conservation is about people, and when communities that co-exist with the wildlife we are trying to save, can feel tangible benefits from conservation, it makes a huge difference in the success of the project. As it is, these communities that share space with wildlife every day that will ultimately determine whether these animals survive and thrive into the future.

The stories of the impacts of the vehicles truly illustrate the positive impacts that can occur when conservation and communities work together. Our conservation work will continue to help the communities that we work with immensely, and on the horizon we are seeing more positive results of coexistence between wildlife, conservationists, pastoralists, and livestock.