Wildlife conservationists in northern Kenya have brokered a temporary peace agreement with tribal elders following a spate of armed incursions in the region.
The move comes as the British High Commission issued a travel warning to tourists visiting the Laikipia region and tourist lodges in the unsettled Kenyan county began evacuating visitors.
Unrest in the region spread this week to private cattle ranches that support sustainable wildlife tourist camps.
Armed herdsmen began marauding through the region in their 1,000s, burning property, shooting at farmers, raiding cattle and slaughtering elephant and zebra.
Provoked by a prolonged drought, the herdsmen began driving their cattle into the ranches in search of grazing, but the incursions have become increasingly violent and already hundreds of small holders have abandoned their land.
Now the private ranch owners have offered the herdsmen free grazing and access to water in return for an amnesty.
“It’s still very tentative but so far the Moran (warriors) have responded positively and some have even begun to guard homesteads” one farmer, who asked to remain anonymous, explained.
Among the ranches allowing the herders free grazing is Suyian, a 40,000 acre wildlife ‘conservancy’ which combines ranching with wildlife and tourism.
The deal, brokered with traditional tribal elders, follows the burning of the ranches’ exclusive tourist camp Suyian Soul by the insurgents on Sunday night.
Suyian, which means wild dog in Maa, is named after a wild pack of dogs living in a rocky outcrop above the lodge.
It is run by the respected botanist, Anne Powys. The Powys family have farmed the ranch for more than 100 years.
In recent years Anne, whose books on African flora and the medicinal properties of Kenyan plants have attracted interest worldwide, has promoted the camp as a spiritual haven, offering yoga and holistic healing to those wanting to reconnect with nature.
After the attacks on Sunday she said her ‘soul’ had been burned.
Suyian overlooks a salt lick and boasts one of the largest elephant populations outside Kenya’s official national parks
Visitors reported seeing the herdsmen attack a herd of elephants when they descended on the camp on Sunday.
It is one of many tourist camps based on ‘conservancies’ that have been attacked this month or are at risk of attack.
Ranchers report being shot at repeatedly and of their buildings being ransacked and burned.
Although some ranchers are hopeful that the peace will hold, others claim to have packed emergency bags in case they have to leave.