Tag Archives: black rhino conservation

Wildlife and man. Learning to live together in Africa

Robert, one of our directors, has had an article published in this months edition of Geographical magazine focusing on the increasing role private conservation initiatives are playing in the battle to protect and save Africa’s  wildlife.

Its been published to help raise awareness of these schemes, many of which depend on the revenues generated by tourism to fund them and allow the lands in question to become a safe habitat for the wildlife. Real Africa and Geographical, the official publication of the Royal Geographical Society, are running a competition with the prize being a visit to one such conservation area in the Masai Mara. To enter, look at our competition page.

This is an edited version of the article.

The age-old conservation dilemma. How do you balance the needs of the wildlife with the needs of man? As the human population grows so does its requirement for food. This means more land is taken for cultivation and grazing, which in turn reduces the natural habitats of the wildlife. They find their territories reduced and the staple plants in their diet destroyed and leads to conflict as crops are damaged and livestock eaten.

It is for this reason that the National Parks and Reserves in Africa are seen as vital for the survival of many species of animal. The remorseless destruction of their habitats has made them a last bastion, the final place they can live their natural lives unmolested.

Now a scheme in Kenya is showing that wildlife can make a comeback so long as the relationship between it and the human inhabitants is carefully managed to the benefit of both. The premise is simple. Convince the local population that the wildlife can generate them more income than traditional farming. Even better is to show them that they can live alongside the wildlife and benefit from the income it generates, without it affecting their traditional lifestyle.

How is this done? A successful example is the Mara North Conservation area, 64,000 acres situated immediately to the north-east of the Masai Mara reserve. The villages and communities living in this area wanted to benefit from the tourism attracted by the wildlife in the reserve, without compromising their lifestyle.

This was achieved by offering concessions to a limited number of low-impact safari camps. A committee was set up, each camp represented, who manage the lands as one. They work in partnership with a Masai Landowners Committee, acting in the interests of all landowners within the Conservation area. These landowners meet up at bi annual meetings.

The key component is the grazing as this is the biggest source of potential conflict and it is managed in a simple but effective way. At any one time, one third of the land is for the Masai to live in, one third is for the domestic animals to graze and one third is left exclusively for the wildlife. Should a herdsman be found grazing in the wrong area, he is fined.

There are no fences, the wildlife is free to roam freely throughout the entire conservation area, but there are always zones that are free of Masai herds that can be used by the camps to provide game-drives to their clients. These zones are managed so that during the peak tourist season they offer the best possible and most diverse viewing in areas that are the most convenient for the camps, reducing the driving times of the safari vehicles and therefore the disturbance to the wildlife.

The camps have discovered another benefit of the grazing programme. During the rains – April to June and November – when the grass grows tall, the wildlife tend to congregate in the grazed areas as they can see much further and get more warning if a predators is on the prowl.

Encouraging the game to live in proximity with the Masai and their herds does of course lead to conflict. The big cats will kill the domestic livestock if the opportunity arises, and to prevent this becoming an issue, a compensation scheme is run to ensure the owner of any slaughtered animals are not financially out of pocket.

Mobile Boma, used to keep the herds same when away from villages.


Advice is given on how to keep the livestock secure, especially at night when the herds of cattle, sheep and goats are fenced in boma, or small enclosures. Traditionally these were made of wood and thick thorn bushes. Now wire-mesh panels are provided to create boma that will keep hungry hyenas, leopard and lions at bay. Mobile enclosures are also provided for keeping stock secure when they are grazing areas too far from their homesteads to return to every night.

In exchange for granting the camps the right to operate on their lands the Masai settlements receive a rent. Depending on the area and the management, this is either a percentage of the turnover of the camp, or a fixed rental payment. This money is administered by the management committee and a certain percentage of it used for communal projects that benefit the entire population.

An example is the OBEL project, aimed primarily on the provision of education to the communities involved. This ranges from the building of new classrooms and facilities at the local schools, to providing IT training to older students. The budget for this project, funded by the conservation area, is US$ 1 million, spread over three years. Other camps provide medical clinics and a midwife unit, as well as water supplies.

Money from the rental payments is also used to provide protection for the game. At a time when poaching, driven by the market for ivory in the Far East, is increasing, the conservation areas employ Armed rangers and guards to protect the wild animals by patrolling and liaising with the Masai herdsmen.

The Masai landowners who allow their land to be used within the scheme receive the remainder of the rent. This initially created the problem of them using the money to purchase more cattle, the traditional indicator of wealth within their community. This put more pressure on the grazing within the scheme. In the last year, however, they have started investing their money elsewhere, recognising this conflict and not wanting to risk the success of the tourism.


Cattle is the traditional way for Masai to show wealth, leading to conflict with wildlife.


The camps also provide an important source of employment to the members of the local communities who do not own land.  This allows them to earn a cash wage to bring back into their communities and spend in the local shops. There are opportunities to train in specific hospitality sector skills, such as the Cookery and Forestry schools run by the Karen Blixen Camp.

The Mara North Conservancy is one of three managed by Seiya Ltd, a private company based in Nairobi. If you combine the areas of these, plus other conservation areas in the region, more land is now privately managed  that in the whole official Mara Reserve. Their success is such that Seiya also manages the “Mara Triangle”, part of the main reserve itself as part of a not-for-profit organization under the control of the district council.

Maintaining roads lets tourists in and gives the Masai access to new markets.


One of Seiya’s managers is Justin Heath, who looks after the Naboisho Conservancy as well as advising on grazing in other areas. He is a good example of the new generation of conservationists who understand you have to work with the local communities, rather than trying to preserve the land  just for the wildlife.

If managed correctly, it will improve the lives of both the local people and of the whole ecosystem, allowing the wildlife to thrive in areas they would previously been hunted or driven away, while the communities are given access to the benefits of tourism they were previously excluded from.

By Robert Ferguson

A ray of hope for the animals of Africa?

Lily’s Kenyan Safari – Sweetwaters & Ol Pejeta

Once again Real Africa’s most intrepid explorer, Lily, has been on another epic trip. This time she went to Kenya to visit some of our favourite properties and catching up with all our wonderful safari guides and local personnel. She has as usual written it all down and given us some superbly detailed reports. Her fascinating journal acts as an excellent guide as what to expect on a Real Africa safari in Kenya. Over to you Lily! 

Nairobi to Ol Pejeta

After a very comfortable overnight flight on Kenya Airways from Heathrow to Nairobi my journey started straight away with a fascinating 3 and a half hour drive from Nairobi, passing through the Central Highlands which are the political and economic heartlands of Kenya. En route I passed the signpost to Thika which immediately brought back memories of Elspeth Huxley’s famous book “The Flame Trees of Thika” which tells all about her childhood in the early settler days of the 20th Century in rural Kenya. It’s a great read and I highly recommend reading it before a trip to Kenya. This area was heavily colonised by the British and it was  Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak, that gave the colonial nation its English name. The majority of British and European settlers carved their farms from the countryside around it and it is easy to understand why this was favoured White Settler country.

The range of scenery I passed by was amazing in its diversity.  In this area the cultivation of land on farms and plantations reveals rich red earth giving forth plenty of crops, many of which end up on tables in the UK such as coffee and green beans. Mount Kenya looms over the area although when I visited it was covered in cloud marking the beginning of the autumn rainy season.  The scenery is so interesting all along the route with brightly coloured jungle and shambas, pale windswept moors, dense conifer plantations as well as busy towns and villages en route.  Another noteworthy sight included five people crammed onto a motorbike (a new law permits only two but in Kenya rules don’t always apply!).

Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp

By lunchtime we reached the gates of our first destination, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This is a non-profit wildlife conservancy supporting endangered species, tourism and also vital community work and outreach support. We carried on to our accommodation for the night,  Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp where we were warmly welcomed by the management team.  Having sent many clients to this camp, it was a pleasure to be here in person at last. We stayed in one of the new luxurious Morani tents with a thatched roof. It was very spacious indeed with decking and great views out to the plain.  The camp is fenced but that doesn’t stop plains game from hopping over to spend time in camp with the guests.  Mind you for them it is a much safer option than the other side of the fence amongst the Sweetwaters’ various prides of lion!  We had company throughout the night in the form of five waterbuck and impala who grazed contentedly outside our tent. But, first of all, after showering away the travel dust, we made our way to the dining tent and were served a truly delicious buffet with such helpful staff.  Although the camp was full the attention  of staff was very superb and personal and it really felt like a small, intimate camp. Finally at the end of my first day in Kenya it was off to bed with hot water bottles and with our camp antelope to stand guard, we had a very good night’s sleep!

The following day a very welcome hot coffee was brought to our tent before we headed off to breakfast. Then it was back to work as I went off on a site inspection of the camp to investigate all the different ranges of tents and accommodation available. The whole camp is expertly run and very comfortable and the opportunities to observe the wildlife and get involved with the conservation effort are fantastic. Only two minutes from the camp gates, we came across a lion pride – about 4 lionesses and cubs.  Amazing! – they were just lazing about by the track and then they ambled in front of the vehicle, gave us a good look then wandered off into the bush. It wasn’t even a proper game drive – we were on a transfer off to the  Sweetwaters Chimp Sanctuary! That was definitely worth a visit and we were all very impressed with the work the team do in protecting and looking after the chimps.  We walked into the forested area with a very knowledgeable guide which gave us all a good insight into the habitat of the chimps.  There is also a very interesting museum and information centre on the site.

At the Morani Information Centre, we were taken to meet Baracka, the blind black rhino, who we fed with hay from a raised wooden viewing platform. Getting so close to a rare rhino was an incredible experience indeed.  We also visited the information centre where we learned from our hosts all about rhinos;  from how to differentiate one set of horns from another, to ways of telling apart different kinds of droppings, the guides take it upon themselves to demonstrate the fact that there is no such thing as “too much” information. After a fascinating morning I sadly left Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a place with so much to offer the visitor, and headed off to the next stage of my Kenyan adventure.

More about the wildlife on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy

A real experience at Ol Pejeta is the Endangered Species Boma where it is possible to drive in the Boma and get really close to some of the world’s most endangered species (booking essential). Ol Pejeta has the largest concentration of Black Rhino, about 88 of them,  in one place in all of in Africa.  It is also home to seven Southern White rhino and four of the seven last remaining Northern White rhino which had been living in a Czech Republic zoo and who were brought to Ol Pejeta in 2009.

The Morani Information Centre named after a favourite black rhino now educates visitors on black rhinos and their work to conserve these highly endangered animals.  It also offers visitors a chance to learn about the various species of wildlife present on the Conservancy and to provide comprehensive information about how a modern wildlife Conservancy works.

The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered, intelligent species can be seen.  It was opened in 1993 in a negotiated agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute. The facility was initially established to receive and provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees  from West and Central Africa. An initial group of three chimpanzee orphans were brought to the sanctuary from a facility in Bujumbura, Burundi in 1993.  Over the last decade Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary has been compelled to keep accepting chimpanzees rescued from traumatic situations bringing the total number of chimpanzees in the sanctuary nowadays to 42. At Sweetwaters Sanctuary chimpanzees are being carefully nursed back to health so they can enjoy the rest of their days in the safety of a vast natural enclosure. The chimpanzees live in two large groups separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River. Sweetwaters is a chartered member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), an alliance of 18 sanctuaries in 12 African countries, currently caring for over 800 orphaned and/or confiscated chimpanzees. PASA’s role is to help conserve chimpanzees and other primates and their habitats through public education and lobbying for political goodwill.

Lion Tracking

Ol Pejeta has some of the highest densities of predators in Kenya and is home to some magnificent lion prides. Some of these lions are collared for monitoring purposes to help the management make crucial decisions on their conservation. The African lion population has declined by 30-50% in just over two decades, a reduction largely due to habitat loss and conflict with humans. Statistics reveal that the national population of lions in Kenya is reduced by an average of 100 lions each year! To come up with solutions aimed at mitigating the human-lion conflict, conservationists monitor lion movements through collars. Visitors have the opportunity to be involved in this crucial research by booking a unique lion tracking safari only available at Sweetwaters Camp.

Posted by Lily Appleby Newby