The western region of Kenya is known to be a stronghold for the Grey Crowned Crane. Large wetland systems, a common feature of the human-dominated landscape, support dozens of Grey Crowned Crane breeding pairs. The wetlands also provide water and support plant species that are critical for local communities’ livelihoods. Fertile soils and high annual rainfall makes the region the country’s bread basket. High demand for arable land has, over the years, contributed to increased cases of encroachment onto wetlands, much to the detriment of crane habitats. To address this threat to cranes, the Kipsaina Crane and Wetland Conservation Group, a local community-based organisation, has been carrying out community conservation outreach activities in the region since the 1990s. Though their activities have helped put cranes on the conservation spotlight, there was a need to go one step further by initiating conservation actions aimed at securing wetlands using national legislation. A glimmer of hope came in 2013 when a new national piece of legislation, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, was enacted. The Act provides a framework for local communities and county authorities to identify sites of biodiversity importance that can be declared Community Conserved Areas.
An encouraging development took place during the last week of February 2015 when the government, through Kenya Wildlife Service, undertook the first steps to operationalise the new Act. A stakeholder consultation workshop was held in the town of Eldoret to get the views and suggestions on how provisions of the Act could be implemented. Maurice Wanjala, the founder of the Kipsaina Crane Wetland Conservation Group, was one of the participants. He has been advocating for the declaration of three key crane sites (Busia Swamp, Kingwal Swamp, and Saiwa Swamp) as Community Conserved Areas. He was given the opportunity to spell out his vision for the management and conservation of the three wetlands when they are declared Community Conserved Areas. The plan is to put in place wetland management systems, to be regulated by communities with support from Kenya Wildlife Service, to save cranes and sustain local livelihoods. Maurice’s vision and efforts by the government to protect wetland sites is in line with the goals and strategy of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s African Crane Conservation Programme.