Kenya elephants Erik Jepson/Flickr

Good Fences Make Safe Species

African countries are often criticized for failing to meet their environmental challenges, with observers often citing loss of habitat in the face of population growth, land degradation, and industrialization. In Kenya, however, an innovative and extensive conservation project is underway.

NAIROBI – African countries are often criticized for failing to meet their environmental challenges. Observers often cite loss of habitat in the face of population growth, land degradation, and industrialization. And then there is the most frequent charge of all: that an increase in poaching is endangering species such as elephants and rhinos.

In Kenya, however, an innovative and extensive conservation project is underway. Begun in the Aberdare mountains in central Kenya, “Rhino Ark,” originally conceived to protect the highly endangered black rhino from the ravages of poachers, is supported by the very people who might have resisted it: the local communities in some of the country’s most productive farming areas.

In 1988, conservationists decided to finance and build an electrified fence to protect an area of the Aberdare National Park bordering smallholder farms. The fence was designed to prevent intrusion from the human population and degradation of the park’s habitat. But it also protected the farmers, whose crops were regularly being destroyed by marauding elephant and other wildlife. Local farmers welcomed the initiative, which influenced the decision to expand the fence to surround the perimeter of the entire Aberdare range.

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