Overview: The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Established in 1995, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (Lewa) is an award-winning catalyst and model for community-centric conservation in northern Kenya. Lewa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Man & Biosphere Reserve, and features on the IUCN Green List of Excellence in protected area management. Combining wildlife conservation, sustainable development and responsible tourism, Lewa’s successful working model has inspired replication by other conservation organizations in the region, notably through its close partner, the Northern Rangelands Trust, which now comprises more than 30 community-owned conservancies.
Lewa is home to 13% of Kenya's rhino population, the world's largest resident population of the endangered Grevy's zebra, and many other species. The Conservancy also promotes landscape connectivity for wildlife, especially for migratory elephants moving from the high-altitude areas in the Mount Kenya Forest, through Lewa and the neighbouring Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve, to habitats in Samburu and areas further north. Safe transit across these landscapes is key to the survival of over 6,500 elephants in northern Kenya.
Lewa’s success in wildlife conservation can be attributed to its close working relationships with neighbouring communities. Lewa works with thousands of local students via the Lewa Education Programme, and manages four health clinics, 17 water projects serving approx. 30,000 people, and a microcredit programme that has served over 1,800 women to date. Lewa also supports community forestry programmes, and oversees six tree nurseries producing approx. 6,000 seedlings a year. Central to Lewa’s work is assisting local authorities in providing security to wildlife and people. Collectively, Lewa directly impacts the lives of close to 50,000 people, and in return, people in surrounding communities have become the first line of defence against poachers and criminal elements who seek to profit from illicit trade in rhino horn, ivory, and other wildlife products.
Lewa’s Governance and Strategic Plan
The Conservancy is governed and managed under a Kenyan Board of Directors, which comprises respected leaders from Kenya’s business, academic, and wildlife conservation arenas. Most of the 62,000 acres managed by the Conservancy are held within the Chikwe Trust, a permanent landholding trust established under Kenyan law. Lewa shares an unfenced boundary with neighboring Borana Conservancy, which has expanded the protected area for rhino and other wildlife by an additional 32,000 acres. Funding for the Conservancy’s annual operating budget of nearly $5 million (2021) comes from a range of sources, including earned income from tourism, donations, support from partner organizations such as Zurich Zoo, The Nature Conservancy and Tusk Trust, as well as income from the Lewa Endowment. A majority proportion of the operating budget is raised from donors and partners in the US, UK, Switzerland and Canada. In US, Canada and UK, respective Boards of Trustees (or Directors) perform fiduciary duties consistent with charitable requirements under national laws and regulations.
Lewa’s talented management team of Kenyan professionals works to deliver Lewa’s Strategic Plan for 2018-2022 which aims to build on its current strengths and “envisions a future where people across Kenya value, protect, and benefit from wildlife.” The Strategic Plan sets out ambitious goals for the five- year period, with clear metrics for success which will depend both on increases in earned income and a coordinated effort to raise more funds internationally. The goals include a new multi-million-dollar campaign to consolidate all of the land managed by Lewa within the Chikwe Trust; building the principal of the Lewa Endowment; and increasing donations for Lewa’s annual operating budget.