Researchers from Colorado State University are working with local Kenyan agencies to develop a sustainable eco-tourism plan that preserves local culture and natural habitat while providing memorable and enriching experiences for visitors from around the world.
The Samburu Heartland region of Kenya, for example, offers vistas of rugged hills and river banks with elephants, giraffes and zebras grazing along the rolling plains. The region, which serves as an important area for biodiversity conversation, also is a growing tourism destination.
The Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves, similar to national parks in the United States, are located north of the capital city of Nairobi in Kenya and have experienced record-setting tourism numbers during the past two years. These national reserves are popular tourist destinations in northern Kenya because of the many opportunities to see rare species including Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, Somali ostrich and the Beisa oryx.
It has become increasingly difficult for the local community to support a steady economy, preserve cultural traditions and understand the importance of ecological and environmental conservation as waves of tourist sweep through their region. In particular, the area’s ecological, social and cultural sustainability is becoming increasingly at-risk as tourism increases, creating a critical need for effective visitor management and long-term planning in the reserves.
In 2005-06, Colorado State researchers, led by graduate student Adam Beh and faculty member Brett Bruyere, interviewed locals in the Samburu region and Kenyan park rangers and surveyed visitors to understand the perceptions each group had about conservation and tourism. The results were compiled and used during a series of trainings for rangers in basic principles of visitor education and economic initiatives during the summer of 2006. Additionally, the researchers presented their findings to the full Samburu County Council, the governing authority of the region, in May 2006.
"The results of this project give the people in Samburu the information they need to plan for long-term sustainable tourism," Bruyere said. "There are clear opportunities for new economic development that are mindful of the local culture and ecology."
Colorado State researchers are preparing the final product for the national reserves project which involves presenting a complete sustainable tourism plan for the region. The plan will address the current status of the region in terms of its socio-cultural, economic and ecological sustainability, including recommendations for further action. Beh and Bruyere are expected to present the full plan to community leaders in the region by late spring or early summer of 2007.
Twelve Colorado State students recently traveled to Samburu with Bruyere as part of a winter break program offered through the university. Working alongside many of the people and communities that have been the focus of Bruyere’s research, the students volunteered for Umoja, a local women’s village, and assisted in data collection for Save the Elephants, a regional wildlife conservation organization. The opportunity was offered through the Alternative Breaks program in the Student Leadership and Civic Engagement Office, or SLCE.
"Being able to travel and experience Kenya was amazing, humbling and enlightening. The people of the Samburu region were strong, resilient and generous beyond belief. They have close to nothing, yet were more than willing to share all that they had with us," said Joshua Eldridge, a Colorado State graduate student studying restoration ecology. "It is important that their awareness of what really matters in life is not lost with the increase of Western visitors."
Colorado State researchers are working closely on this project with the International Programs office of the United State Forest Service, the Africa Wildlife Foundation and the Kenya Wildlife Service.