Laikipia County, Kenya

Image from: Laikipia Wildlife Forum

Laikipia County lies on the equator in the heart of Kenya and in the rain shadow of Mt. Kenya.  At an elevation of 1200-2845 meters above sea level, the plateau’s climate is typically dry and cool and has many unique habitats including grasslands, savannah woodland, and forest (Bredin et al., 2012).  According to a 2009 census, Laikipia is home to 399,227 people, from various ethnic communities, including the most prominent being the Mukogodo-Maasai tribe (KNBS, 2009; Bredin et al., 2012). 


Mukogodo- Maasai Tribe

One of the largest tribes in the region, the Mukogodo-Maasai tribe, a subsection of the Maasai tribe present in southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania, rely primarily on pastoralism (Maasai Association. n.d.).  One of the most significant challenges for the Maasai people is integration into the modern era without losing their culture.  The tribe uses Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) passed down through generations to determine the best areas to find water during different seasons.  TEK has been critical to the Maasai culture, but with climate change decreasing the predictability of precipitation, this cultural foundation is becoming less reliable.  Despite western influences and the effects of climate change, Maasai culture remains relatively intact compared to other tribes in the region.  This is, in part, because they have become a symbol of Kenyan culture and a tourism destination (Maasai Tribe, People of Kenya, 2015).  

The Maasai rely on cattle for their livelihood.  Cattle fulfill their dietary requirements providing meat, milk, and occasionally the blood for special occasions (Maasai Tribe, People of Kenya, 2015).  Almost 40% of Laikipia is communal land owned by Maasai pastoralists (Laikipia Predator Project, n.d.) and raising livestock can be challenging because herdsmen must protect their livestock from predators, such as lions, leopards, and hyaenas (Bredin et al., 2012).  Livestock are therefore kept in bomas, or enclosures traditionally made out of acacia, to protect livestock.  The enclosures sometimes fail, leading to human-wildlife conflict (Bredin et al., 2012).

One of the most well-known aspects of Maasai culture is lion hunting, considered a rite of passage done when the men in the tribe agree that the individual is brave enough.  It is, however, against Maasai customary laws to hunt when the lion population is in decline, as it is today, and so the majority of predatory killings are an act of revenge for the loss of livestock (Maasai Association, n.d.; Maasai Tribe, People of Kenya, 2015).  Animals and people are often drawn to similar areas for water, and so as climate change decreases water availability human-wildlife conflict could increase (Bredin et al., 2012).

Maasai People of Laikipia County, Kenya

Image from: Laikipia Wildlife Forum

Maasai Herdsmen

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Lion Cubs at Mpala Research Center

Image by: Erin Waters


A video looking at the water crisis in Kenya

Kenya Citizen TV

Children collecting water from bore holes

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World map of Malaria distribution

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Climate change will have many adverse effects on the Laikipia County region, primarily focused on changes in traditional precipitation patterns and the availability of water.  The main hazards are:

  • Water Scarcity
    • Due to decreased precipitation (Voda et al., 2014), the retreat of glaciers on Mt. Kenya (IPCC, 2014), and increased population along with increased agriculture in Laikipia (WMRA, 2017).
    • With the melting of tropical glaciers (IPCC, 2014), including Mt. Kenya's glaciers, comes decreased discharge in to the rivers of Laikipia County.
  • Conflict
    • Mt. Kenya and Laikipia have historically been sites of conflict and violence because of water inequality (Dell’Angelo et al., 2015).  Lack of water in 2009 that dried the Ewaso Ng’iro River caused conflict between pastoralists and farmers for land, which escalated to violence leaving five people dead and hundreds displaced (IRIN, 2009).
  • Food Scarcity
    • Laikipia County has little or no mixed farming, but in pastoral zones food security is compromised (Mutua et al., 2016).
  • Disease
    • Incidence of malaria is increasing beyond changes due to other factors such as drug availability and socio-economic conditions (IPCC, 2014).

Map of the glaciers on Mt. Kenya

Image from: World Glacial Monitoring Service

 "Where God Lives"

 Mt. Kenya is considered to be a sacred place to many tribes in Laikipia County; it is considered to be where god resides (Finke, 2007).  Rising to 5,199 meters, the mountain has an impressive presence from just about anywhere in Laikipia (Laikipia: Kenya’s High Country, 2011).  Although there were 18 glaciers over a century ago, only 12 rapidly retreating glaciers remain, the largest being Lewis glacier on the southwestern side of the mountain (Voda et al., 2014).   Lewis Glacier is one of the most widely studied equatorial glaciers in the world with the volume of ice shrinking from 7.7km3 in 1978 to about 0.3 km3 in 2004 (Prinz, et al. 2016; UNEP, 2008).  Increases in air temperature, rather than a lack of precipitation, is the driving force behind the melting glaciers on Mt. Kenya, although decreased precipitation could be a contributing factor (Voda et al., 2014).

Mount Kenya can be seen from almost anywhere in Laikipia, Kenya

Image by: Erin Waters

Exposure and Vulnerability

Water Scarcity in Kenya

Increases in Water Scarcity

The Ewaso Ng’iro River is fed by Mt. Kenya’s glacial melt winding through Laikipia County.  This river is a major source of water for the Maasai relied upon by 93% of of the pastoralists there (Riebeek, n.d; Laikipia Wildlife Forum, n.d.).  The retreat of the glaciers on Mt. Kenya, which has a high correlation to climate change, could be devastating to the people of Laikipia in the years to come (IPCC, 2014).  In the dry seasons, January to February and then late June to October, Mt. Kenya is the only source of surface water in Laikipia via the Ewaso Ng’iro River (Notter et al., 2007, p. 266).  Rainfall has become less frequent and more intense over the last 50 years and is predicted to decrease even further with increasing climatic change (Dell’Angelo et al., 2015). 

Entering Laikipia

Image by: Erin Waters

Increases in Conflict

In 2009, the river fell dry during a severe drought creating conflict over the land between pastoralists and farmers (Riebeek, n.d.; IRIN Tensions over Pasture, 2009). There has been increased agriculture and an almost ten-fold increase in population between 1960 and 2000 which has caused an increase in demand for water (Notter et al., 2007).  One of the major challenges is regulating water usage upstream to make sure that there is enough water downstream, which can cause conflict in Laikipia.  Some factors influencing water flow include illegal diversions for personal or commercial use, but also deforestation along the riparian zones of rivers causing an increase in evaporation (Laikipia Wildlife Forum, n.d.; Notter et al., 2007).

Decreases in Food Security

Since this region is already stressed when it comes to food security, climate change has the potential to exacerbate this problem (Mutua et al., 2016).  Irrigation of crops is vital in this region, especially during the dry seasons when there was an average rainfall of approximately 25 mm (Laikipia: Kenya’s High Country, 2011).  The people of Laikipia County ultimately rely on the mountain to grow and raise their food, and climate change could severely impact this capability that could lead to increases in malnutrition and under-nutrition.

Motorcyclists in Laikipia, Kenya

Image from: Erin Waters

Increases in Disease

Another impact of climate change are changes to disease vectors, particularly malaria (IPCC, 2014).  As the climate shifts, Laikipia County, which is a plateau at about 2000 meters above sea level, will become warmer and therefore more favorable to the Anopheles mosquito, the vector for the malaria parasite. Currently, malaria is relatively rare in this region because the parasite cannot complete its life cycle below 20°C, but this could change with climate change (Climate Change and Vector-Borne Diseases, 2011).  It is not just malaria that could increase, but also ticks that affect livestock, cholera outbreaks, and illness due to lack of food or weakened immune systems (Laikipia Wildlife Forum, n.d.).

Adaptation and Resilience

Researchers at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya

Image by: Erin Waters

As we fail to curb the effects of climate change, communities such as those in Laikipia County, Kenya, must adapt in order to preserve their way of life.  There are many different organizations working to protect the land, the resources, the wildlife, and the people in Laikipia County.  Here are just a few:

Laikipia Wildlife Forum

One of the major organizations in this region is the Laikipia Wildlife Forum which focuses on water management, conservation, rangeland management, and education.  They are the secretariat of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, meaning that they are in charge of accounting for water and allocating it equitably to users. 

Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA)

The motto of the WRMA is “accounting for every drop” and they work throughout Kenya in regions with unreliable sources of water.  Their work is primarily associated with maintaining water catchment areas as well as regulating resources.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Ol Pejeta Conservancy has become a sanctuary for many species such as rhinos and chimpanzees, an educational facility, a tourist destination, and a research center.  They employ ecotourism as a means to fund projects, such as educating children in the region to increase awareness about this beautiful ecosystem.  They work with the community as well to help mitigate human-wildlife conflict, and fund research on the conservancy to expand knowledge about this region.

Laikipia Predator Project

This organization focuses specifically on working to protect predators and people in the region from human- wildlife conflict, which is on the rise because of both the population increase in Laikipia and climate change.  Predators such as lions are a valuable part of the ecosystem, and so fostering this understanding within the community’s is a vital part of protecting Laikipia.



Although these organizations are doing valuable work in mitigating the possible effects of climate change, there is much more work to be done if Laikipia is to be prepared for extreme events such as droughts in the upcoming years.  The goal of all of this work is to increase the community’s resilience in the hopes that they will be able to stay one step ahead of future changes to this region.

About the author

Erin Waters on Mt. Kenya

My name is Erin Waters and I made this web page in the spring of 2017 for my Adapting to Climate Change class at St. Lawrence University.  I went to Kenya as part of the BioExpedition Class through St. Lawrence in the summer of 2016 doing research on human-wildlife conflicts in Laikipia County, Kenya. Feel free to email me at

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