Rhino conservation in Kenya – Borana and Lewa, dog squads and evening deployment

This is the second part of my blog about my trip to Kenya last May to see specific rhino projects which Real Africa is supporting through our partnership with Save the Rhino International. To find out more about this partnership or to support our #RealRhinos campaign please click here. To find out about our new partnership with Animals Saving Animals, a small organisation working in sub-Saharan Africa to train and deploy anti-poaching dogs, please click here.

We arrived at the gates to Lewa late morning. An open 4×4 pulled up with two armed rangers fully clad in camouflage fatigues. Rianto beamed at us, taking out a cake tin to reveal freshly baked banana bread – it was still warm. He passed back a battered holdall which tinkled with the sound of bottles. Then came a bottle opener as we headed off down a track, “Beer?”

 

Driving across the Lewa Conservancy, jewel green following May rain, we saw a plethora of wildlife – huge herds of zebra, including Grevy’s Zebra with their distinct stripes and white bellies, antelope scattering as we made our way, and warthog raising their tails in alarm as we passed.

After around 20 minutes we stopped as Rianto grabbed the binoculars and pointed to the horizon,  where focusing our gaze we saw at first one, then two, then five rhino – a mix of both black and white. Rianto then counted and announced “Eleven Rhino” – we looked again, scanning the horizon, and sure enough wallowing in the mud and high on the brow of the hill were more rhino. I’ve never seen so many all in one place before – a great testament to the work of the Borana and Lewa rangers and conservation teams.

We carried on until reaching the headquarters of the Anti-poaching Dog Squad, one of the projects supported by Save the Rhino International which I had specifically come to Kenya to visit.  I could see a large bloodhound, poised and ready for action and the rangers all gathered around a small thatched boma. After being introduced to softly-spoken Wilfred and the rest of his dedicated team of rangers, Rianto helped to explain how the dog squads are used on Lewa and Borana to protect the rhino. There are around 160 precious rhino across the two conservancies – around 97 black and 63 white, although with the rhino successfully breeding this number will hopefully increase. Some of the rhino have the most spectacular horns, like Wai Wai, a female black rhino who has reared a number of calves on Borana –  all need to be protected – patrolled day and night against the threat of poachers. All the 4×4 safari vehicles have detailed ID booklets with pictures to allow you to identify the rhino as you move around the conservancies.

The anti-poaching dogs have two key roles: to track and attack poachers.  Bloodhounds are the trackers with the ability to cover vast distances over tricky terrain, tracking scent from a single footstep for over 24 hours. Belgian malinois are the attack dogs although they also have the ability to sniff out illegal arms and caches of ivory and horn.  GPS tracking devices are attached to weapons when they are discovered by the dog teams, who then retreat, waiting for the poachers to return for them. They can then apprehend the whole group. With regards to attack, dogs are naturally feared in Africa so add to this a dog which has been specifically trained to attack and disable the ‘gun arm’ and you have a very powerful deterrent.

Wilfred was keen to show the dogs and the rangers in action having given us a summary of their skills. Tony the malinois was out on a mission so the job lay with Tipper the bloodhound. It was decided that my husband Mark become a dummy ‘poacher’ and I would join the tracking team to see the process from start to finish.

Mark was asked to walk on the stony sand, leaving a single footprint, before heading off across the grassy plains accompanied by some rangers. I stayed with Wilfred and his track team with Tipper. First Wilfred explained how Tipper had been trained  – when the chest harness is put on to the dog, he knows it is time to go to work. True enough, as soon as Tipper was harnessed his body language seemed to change and he was eager to move off, just like a dog at home waiting for his walk.

One of the rangers then put gloves on and got a polythene bag with a gauze pad within it. Being very careful not to contaminate the gauze, he pressed it down hard on the stony sand where Mark’s footprint was. He then placed the bag containing the gauze over Tipper’s nose for no more than a few seconds. Tipper immediately started to pull his handler and off we went, first along the stony sand track at a fast walk, then a gentle jog and before I knew it we took a sharp left, leaving the track, running through the long grasses of Lewa.

The track team, who train hard with long runs led by Pete Newland, ex British military, had no trouble keeping up with Tipper. I wish I could say the same!  In the back of my mind I was thinking about puff adders in the long grass where we were running!  When we finished the exercise and had regained normal breathing I did ask Pete about this and he said they haven’t had too much trouble at Lewa/Borana but further north in the Sera Conservancy where he also works with the Northern Rangelands Trust,  puff adders can at certain times of year be a problem. He had just purchased six viles of antidote at $1,000 US a vile . The antidote can be used for rangers and also for the dogs should they be bitten.
Tipper was incredibly focused on his path and there was no dithering about. A few kilometres later, we found ourselves on a dry river bed and by the time I caught up with the rangers, Tipper was happily slobbering all over Mark who had been primed for his arrival with a treat. It was an impressive display of how these track dogs play an important role in protecting rhinos.

50% of the money that we raised through our #RealRhinos campaign in aid of Save the Rhino International has gone to help the Dog Squads in Kenya. We hope to buy vital equipment for them, from bite suits which cost around £500 each to dog food at £7 per week. We want to help pay for veterinary care for the dogs and also the rhinos – to pay for a vet to treat a rhino that has been shot costs around £1000. The rangers need our support too – they need basic supplies like boots and hats so that they can carry out their day to day duties. To date our campaign has raised £6500. By going on safari with us or buying a rhino Tshirt from our Real World Store you can help us raise even more.

We have also ‘adopted’ a puppy – a Belgian Malnois – who is now 5 months old, has had his vaccinations and has started his training with Daryll Pleasants from Animals Saving Animals. The puppy will eventually be deployed to an anti-poaching dog squad working in the Save Valley in Zimbabwe where one of only eight viable black rhino breeding populations can be found.

Visiting Borana or Lewa

This was my first visit to the eastern Laikipia region – I  wish someone had told me how beautiful this region is as I would never have waited so long to visit. Part of the appeal of this area to me is seeing how the traditional cattle ranches have diversified, embracing conservation and tourism. The lodge at Borana has a real homestead feel, with beautiful gardens and guinea fowl casually strutting across the lawns. The walls are adorned with historic black and white images telling the story of Borana from the trophy hunting days to the forefront of the modern conservation movement. Borana remains family owned,  by Michael and Nicky Dyer .

There are just eight beautiful cottages perched on the side of the valley – all thatched, with decks and log fires. We were in Room 4 – a very pretty room close to the main area decorated in blue and white with a huge four poster bed carved from local wood at the centre of the room. Downstairs was a lovely bathroom, fashioned from the rock. We enjoyed an alfresco lunch at the pool, with produce from the farm –  quiche with salads and beef carpaccio. The beef comes from the Borana cattle and is supplied by Michael Dyer’s son, the ‘Well Hung Butcher’ . Cattle ranching is how Borana started but nowadays although cattle still graze the grassland there is holistic land management with their grazing carefully monitored in order to enhance grazing for wildlife. Cattle play an important and often overlooked role, reducing moribund grass biomass, promoting seed dispersal and increasing the nutritional value of the grass while decreasing the risk of bush fires.

Milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables are harvested from Michael’s parents garden, Tony & Rose who still live on Borana – Tony just celebrated his 90th birthday. All this fresh produce and a wonderful kitchen team ensured all the food we enjoyed was just delicious.

In the afternoon we joined Flick, who manages the lodge, for afternoon tea and cake before Rianto collected us and took us to the anti-poaching headquarters to meet Flick’s husband Sam Taylor, who heads up operations. It was fascinating to see the HQ and speak to Sam and the rangers about their work. We were invited to join the rangers on a deployment. On our way we saw lots of wildlife including a very friendly herd of elephants. It was great to see the rangers all whip out their phones to take photos for their families and get as much joy out of the encounter as us.

The rangers talked us through their kit, which includes weapons and a heat seeking camera per team. They explained how they stay in the same team of four of five rangers – this way they get to know their roles and how best to work together. The rangers receive training, board and lodging and a good salary in Kenyan terms of around $500 US per month. What struck us was the pride the rangers took in their position – they want to protect the rhinos just as much as we want them to.

During our short stay it was overwhelmingly apparent that the conservancies work very much in partnership with the community. From funding a mobile clinic which roams for miles providing health care in areas that would have very little access otherwise, to an education support programme which has helped to put dozens of children through school.


We checked in on Linda, one of the rhinos that the team we had joined were working to protect before reaching a site on the western border of the conservancy where the rangers were to set up their overnight watch. We watched the rangers go through their routine, climbing to a brow of a hill to make a camp before setting off. The sun was starting to dip, jackals crossed our path and a huge herd of buffalo seemed to surround us as we made our way to neighbouring Laragai House for sundowners. A perfect setting for ice cold gin and tonics and nibbles.

Returning to the lodge, after negotiating hyenas, we found a cosy glow from the newly laid fire in our cottage and steaming hot water with an abundance of lovely Cinnabar Green natural soaps and shampoo to enjoy.  Dinner was a real ritual and felt very special- first we met for drinks in an imposing sitting room with long bar and a vast fireplace surrounded by comfy sofas and arm chairs with dogs snoozing on the rugs around the room. We then moved  into the dining room to sit at a huge wooden table for a leisurely candlelit dinner. The chocolate souffle (with a glass of Amaretto) was divine!

Exclusive Offer – book by 31 March 2017

One night free at Borana – valid for travel all year excluding Christmas/New Year. Borana Conservation fee of $105 per person payable for free night.

You can now stay 3 nights for the price of 2 at Borana – exclusive to Real Africa’s #RealRhinos campaign. In addition to you benefiting from a wonderful free night, the Dog Squad will also benefit as the Real Africa Trust will make a £50 donation to Save the Rhino International,  per person on behalf of all clients booking this deal.

To find out more please click here.

Visit the Dog Squad

To visit the dog squad from Borana costs an additional £90 per person – this comprises a small fee for the dog squad plus the Lewa conservation fee of $105 per person per day. We recommend heading over to Lewa for the whole day, enjoying a safari on this side of the conservancy, a dog squad visit and a lovely picnic lunch before returning to Borana.  Please ask us for details.


 

Laikipia is currently experiencing a drought – you may have read reports of looting in the western region of Laikipia – please visit our News section for an update here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Arruba

The Real Africa Trust continues to donate money directly to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a pioneering conservation organisation working to protect wildlife and habitats across East Africa.  

The DSWT runs the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programme in the world. The nursery unit, pictured above, is based in Nairobi National Park, Kenya and it was here that I first met Kithaka, the elephant Real Africa adopted back in November 2013. Kithaka continues to thrive and will soon be moving from the Nairobi National Park nursery unit to Ithumba, ready to be rehabilitated back to the wild. When we first met Kithaka he was so small and vulnerable that it is hard to believe he is about to move to the Ithumba unit, as a strong young bull elephant, and this is all testament to the work of the Sheldrick Trust. We eagerly await his progress. In the knowledge that Kithaka is about to move on to the next stage, we felt the time was right to adopt another elephant – a calf just starting their journey in the nursery unit. So, in the New Year we adopted Arruba.You can read Arruba’s story below.

In recent months, with poaching escalating once again in East Africa, the Sheldrick Trust has been called on to rescue many tiny distressed elephants. Without their help, these calves would have perished. We recently heard of a tiny newborn calf, Ndotto, who was rescued at just 2 days old from the Ndoto Mountains in Kenya’s far north. Ndotto was found very confused in a throng of sheep and goats.  Ndotto is now being looked after in the nursery. You can see three pictures of the rescue mission to the left. Even on New Year’s day the team were in action attempting to help an emaciated calf found trapped in a gulley in Laikipia – sadly help came too late and on this occasion, the calf did not survive for more than a few days. However the Sheldrick Trust successfully rescued three babies in January.  A tiny calf was rescued from the Sera Conservancy, Northern Kenya on January 3rd. Hamsini struggled with a terrible septic wound on his back caused from a torrid time while being trapped in a well. He also suffered terrible bruising from the fall, and a lung infection. It has been a tricky month for Hamsini but we are hopeful with the right care that he will start to put on weight and his condition improve ; another calf of around 15 months, name Boromoko (pictured bottom right) was rescued from the plains of the Masai Mara on January 5th and has settled in the nursery well, being exceedingly loving; and then, on the 26th, yet another orphan was rescued close to Narok, a heavily populated area.  Her name is Siangiki which means young girl in Masai.  She came in a collapsed state but thankfully the Trust has managed to retrieve her from the brink and she is now safely out with the others and beautifully settled. Often it is not clear how the calves came to be separated from their mothers.

 Arruba’s story

On Tuesday 28th May 2013 a young female elephant calf was sighted by the Kenyan Wildlife Service maintenance team who were erecting a new electric fence in the Aruba Dam area of Tsavo East National Park. The elephant calf was reported to be desperate, and quite evidently alone. Due to the new fence, the baby was trapped and confused.

The period the calf had been trapped within the fenced area was unknown, as is the fate of the calf’s mother and the rest of its herd. It is suspected that the calf and it’s mother might have strayed into the new fenced area and the mother somehow lost the calf on exiting the enclosure and was unable to find her way back in to retrieve her baby. Another possibility is that the calf is an ivory-orphan, as eight elephants were brutally poached in nearby Ndara.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Voi Stockades in Tsavo East were alerted. The head Keeper of the Voi Stockades contacted the DSWT Nairobi HQ that afternoon to make the arrangements for a rescue plane from Nairobi to come the following morning, as darkness was already setting in.

So the new calf, who was estimated to be approximately 8 months old, put up a huge fight when the Voi Keepers arrived at the scene, with Arruba escaping their attempts at rescuing her and reacting extremely aggressively to their presence. Yet the Keepers eventually succeeded in capturing her and loaded her into the waiting vehicle to be transported back to the Voi Stockades.
On arrival at the Voi Stockades, the calf began to settle down and thankfully drank, having arrived in a very dehydrated state. There had been no access to water within the fenced area where she was found. Apart from a few bruises and minor abrasions the calf was in good condition.

The presence of the other orphans at the Voi Stockades was a huge comfort to the new arrival who desperately needed love and reassurance. Shimba, who is recovering remarkably from lion attack injuries, was a great help in getting the calf settled down, stretching his trunk through the stockade fence to offer affection and encouragement and reassurance.

In Nairobi on the morning of the 29th, the Nairobi team and plane were ready to depart on their mission having been briefed the previous evening. Three of the Nairobi Keepers set off to Nairobi’s domestic airport at 9am to catch the rescue plane to Voi in Tsavo East where the Voi Keepers were preparing the calf for her plane journey to Kenya’s capital city.

After a smooth flight with clear views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chyulu Hills and the great expanse of Tsavo, the plane landed on Voi’s airstrip, which is located only a few kilometres from the Voi Stockades. On arrival at the stockades it was obvious that the orphan was going to be a handful to re-capture as she was still wild and fearful. Those who were still present to keep a careful eye on the new baby included some of Voi’s big ex-orphans including Emily, Lolokwe and Icholta.

The entire stockade’s workforce and the Nairobi Keepers were all needed to help to get the new arrival restrained and on the ground in order to brace her legs and keep her safe and secure during the flight. With all hands on deck the calf showed huge amounts of strength in managing to evade being taken down, yet after a few minutes she succumbed to the keepers, whilst ex-orphan Emily bellowed and stomped around the stockades concerned about what was happening to her.
The calf was quite a weight and again all hands were needed to lift her into the waiting vehicle and to get her to the airstrip. The transfer went smoothly and within half an hour the calf was being lifted into the plane, strapped securely inside with an IV drip administered to ensure she stayed hydrated during the flight, and a mild sedation to keep her calm.

Saying farewell to all of the Voi staff the Nairobi Keepers climbed into the plane alongside the calf, keeping her reassured and making sure she was as comfortable as possible during the journey. The orphan gave into exhaustion during the flight and fell into a peaceful sleep, awoken when the plane arrived back in Nairobi.

A DSWT vehicle was waiting at the airstrip and the calf was soon on her way to the DSWT Nairobi Nursery in Nairobi National Park. At 2.30pm she had finally reached her final destination and was carried into her stockade. After untying her, the Nairobi Keepers carefully lifted off the blanket covering her face, which was keeping her quiet and calm, and helped her up. Unsteady on her feet she stood, rather dazed, in the shade of her stockade eyeing the humans surrounding her warily yet being too tired to fight them off, she seemed to know she was in a safe place with caring people to look after her.
This calf was lucky to have been found alive and well as the area in which she was sighted is a favourite place for the infamous Tsavo lions.

It took Arruba a good few days to calm down and feed on milk, and once she trusted the Keepers enough to follow them she was let out of the confines of her stockade to join the Nursery orphans. By this time she knew them as they had been brought to her stockade for every feed time in an effort to coax her into drinking the milk formula that she seemed so reluctant to take.

Once out with the others elephant communication worked its magic yet again, and it was as if she knew the ropes from the outset – even venturing to the public viewing between 11 -12 with the others, seemingly unperturbed, a far cry from the frightened calf that only a week before was brought to the safety of the Voi stockades.

You can find out more about the DSWT here.

Many clients travelling with Real Africa to Kenya elect to stopover in Karen, a leafy suburb of Nairobi, for a night to enable them to visit the DSWT nursery unit in person. If this is of interest then please do let us know. There are two viewings, a public 1 hour viewing at lunchtime daily, and a private visit daily at 5pm, for those wishing to adopt an elephant.

 

By Sara White

 

Conservation News from South Africa

Great news in the conservation battle to save the rhino in South Africa. A well-known philanthropist (the Howard G. Buffett Foundation) has donated R255 million (USD $23.7 million) to fund a three-year programme to combat rhino poaching in South Africa. The programme will focus on saving the rhino in the Kruger National Park which has been subject to some of the worst poaching in the whole of Africa. It will also try out new and untested anti-poaching tactics which can then hopefully be rolled out across other African nations suffering from poaching.

The Kruger National Park in South Africa is home to over 40% of the world’s remaining 22,000 rhinos and is home to the largest single population of rhinos in the world. Sadly it has also been home to the worst poaching crisis in living memory. Since January 2010, 1,383 rhinos have been poached from the park. More than a thousand rhinos were poached in 2013 and 172 have been poached since the beginning of 2014.

Globally rhino poaching increased 5000% between 2007 and 2012, with one killed by a poacher every ten hours. Since 2004 the Central Africa region has lost two-thirds of its elephant population, and last year saw the Western Black Rhino declared extinct.

It is interesting that the South Africa government have been given this money at this time. The UK government hosted an international conference on illegal wildlife trade only a month ago (13 Feb. 2014). The conference brought together global leaders to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect the world’s most iconic species from the threat of extinction. The London Declaration contains commitments for practical steps to end the illegal trade in rhino horn, tiger parts and elephant tusks that fuels criminal activity worth over $19 billion each year. Botswana will be hosting a further conference next year to assess how plans are being put into effect. Key states, including Botswana,  China,  Ethiopia, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Vietnam, alongside the United States and Russia, all signed up to actions that will help eradicate the demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement, and support the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by wildlife crime.

The South African government have been heavily criticised by conservation groups and other nations for their refusal to attend. This caused uproar at the time but the government defended its actions by claiming that they have a different opinion on how to halt the poaching crisis. This injection of funds from the Buffet Foundation may allow the South African government to prove that their ideas do in fact work.

The donation was announced by the foundation, together with the Nature Conservation Trust, and SANParks. The bank who will be handling the funds have agreed to provide favourable banking fees and interest on the funds. Some argue that the funds should be handled free of charge so that no one will be making a profit from this important scheme and many others in the conservation world are concerned that with such huge sums of money involved much may be lost through so called “consultants” fees or corruption. However in general the huge sum of money is very welcomed by all and it should make a massive difference to the conservation battle.

The plan is that the funds will create an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) within the Kruger National Park by using sophisticated detection and tracking equipment, strengthened infrastructure on the ground and in the air, to be combined with elite canine units and highly trained ranger teams. Kruger’s IPZ will also serve as a testing ground to inform targeted efforts to combat poaching in these other African regions.

“The scale, complexity, and strategic value of this initiative is truly unprecedented for SANParks, and we believe will be transformative in our ongoing efforts to address poaching and the decimation of the rhino population in Kruger National Park,” said SANParks CEO, David Mabunda. He added that the lessons SANParks hoped to learn could be shared across the continent.

“We would like to assure you, Mr Howard Buffet, that we are determined not to lose this fight. We as South Africa certainly do not intend to capitulate and lose the battle for the survival of key members of the iconic Big Five,” said Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa. “We hope that your donation will spur more philanthropists to get involved in such a worthy cause. The rhino of South Africa are important to the whole world,” she added.

Posted by Ruth

Rangers – the Police force protecting the National Parks

We thought we would take a closer look at the National Park Ranger in Africa. We talk a lot about rangers when discussing poaching and the battle to protect wildlife in Africa but we haven’t really gone into detail about who rangers are and what they do. It varies between country to country and government policy but generally their roles are pretty similar. A park ranger is someone whose job is to protect and preserve the park or land entrusted to them. They are employed in protecting and conserving the wildlife and their habitat in all the major national parks in Africa.

The duties of the park ranger are very varied depending on which country or park they work for. Most are employed by the government but sometimes they are employed by charities or by separate authorities in charge of the parks. They have become more and more specialised over the past few decades and they are a vital force in the national park scheme. The parks wildlife and habitats futures are really in their hands.

Sometimes they act as guides and experts and their predominant role is educational and to provide information. In most places in Africa though the park rangers are also very much law enforcers in charge of keeping park regulations enforced and encouraging visitors to stick to the guidelines. They check permits and visitor numbers etc. in order to protect the park from being overwhelmed and to make sure that visitors respect the wildlife and the habitat.

However recently the rangers have also become more important in the battle against poaching and they have become more like a police force with powers to arrest and disarm poachers. This is the case in Uganda and Rwanda where they are trying to protect the endangered mountain gorilla, in Kenya and Tanzania where they are protecting rhino and elephant from poaching and big cats from illegal hunters and in Southern Africa they are also at the forefront of the battle against poaching and illegal hunting.

SANParks the authority in charge of the national parks of South Africa has recently inaugurated 49 of the 150 new field rangers during its International Ranger Day celebrations last week. The South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, has invested a huge amount in training a large number of new recruits in order to fight the poaching problem in areas such as the Kruger National Park.

The new recruits will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach and will draw skills and expertise from various law enforcement agencies currently deployed. SANParks, Chief Executive Officer, Dr David Mabunda said the new recruits were coming at a critical time when the South African conservation agencies as well as private individuals were paying a high price with the senseless killings of the country’s rhino population.

These new park rangers have the lives of millions of animals as their responsibility as well as the safety and wellbeing of the visitors to the park. It’s a major task and we all owe a lot to these rangers. The future of these magnificent animals may well be in their hands.