I have just returned from another visit to the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. As a sculptor, studying wildlife in its natural habitat is the only way to understand an animal. The NRT’s work is making a real difference to preserving those habitats. And this has a favourable impact on the people and animals that live there too.
My career as a sculptor started at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 1996. I have written before about Lewa on my blog and what a special place it is. I will never forget being chased up a tree by an angry black rhino called Keno! However, once safely in his pen, he was a great subject to sculpt out of local beeswax.
I have been lucky enough to visit Lewa on many occasions. I’ve seen the place grow and change from a family cattle ranch to world-renowned wildlife conservancy.
In the 1980s, my friends Ian and Jane Craig and his family worked with the conservationist Anna Merz. They created the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary at Lewa. The idea was to protect Kenya’s remaining rhino. Numbers had declined in the previous 15 years because of poaching for rhino horn. The sanctuary thrived and then evolved into the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 1995.
Ian developed partnerships with neighbouring communities. This encouraged conservation and sustainable land management. This also led to him founding the Northern Rangelands Trust. The NRT is a community organisation. Today, with the help of the Kenyan Government and Kenya Wildlife Services, it supports 35 conservancies. They operate across 4.5 million hectares, covering about 630,000 people in northern Kenya.
The NRT has transformed both the lives of the communities and the wildlife there. In an area historically tense and uneasy, peace is growing. Natural resources are being conserved. In the previous 40 years, Kenya’s wildlife declined by nearly three-quarters. Now, thanks to armed security patrols and rapid response units, the tide is finally turning. Since 2012, elephant poaching has decreased by 52%.
Elephants are such a special part of this region. In 2013, UNESCO further extended the Mount Kenya World Heritage Site. They included Lewa and Ngare Ndare Forest and the Mount Kenya Elephant Corridor which connects them. The 14km corridor follows a traditional elephant migratory pathway. Now elephants can use it again and safely cross private farmland. This dramatically reduces human-elephant conflict and impacts favourably on other wildlife.
Last year, on a family visit to Kenya, we visited the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary at Namunyak. In the past, young elephants had to move to Nairobi for care. Therefore they had little chance of reuniting with family groups. Reteti rescues orphaned or abandoned baby elephants and looks after them. Then it releases them back into local wild herds wherever possible. Despite their sad beginnings, the Reteti elephants are a happy herd. They look well because of the expert care of highly trained staff. Reteti is another success story for the NRT’s community-led conservation.
We also visited Kalama where the NRT have trained women in various skills. One of the most successful ventures is beadcraft. We saw the beautifully intricate jewellery and decorations they are producing.
The wildlife conservancies of the NRT are inspirational. They have received some well-deserved recognition. The BBC filmed David Attenborough meeting Nicky the blind baby rhino at Lewa. A really unforgettable moment! The Duke of Cambridge, as the royal patron of Tusk, has also been a force behind the ivory ban.
I give back to conservation by supporting the NRT and Tusk through my African Sculptures. In November 2017, I took my wife and daughters on a safari and we visited Lewa, Sirokoi and Manda Bay. I was really excited to share my passion for Africa and it was the holiday of a lifetime. My three daughters now follow the next generation at Lewa. We will be back again soon!
In my next blog post, I’ll write about another NRT project. Il Ngwesi is an eco-lodge owned and run by the Maasai community. You can find out more about the NRT and projects in Northern Kenya by following the links below.