I have just returned from another visit to a few of the wildlife conservancies of the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. For me as a sculptor, the opportunity to study wildlife in its natural habit is the only way to truly understand an animal. The work being done by the NRT is making a real and measurable difference to the preservation of those natural habitats, and the people and animals that live there.
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 to me. I shall never forget being chased up a tree by an aggressive black rhino called Keno who was due to be relocated! Once darted and safely in his relocation boma, he was a fantastic subject to sculpt out of locally sourced beeswax.
I have been lucky enough to visit Lewa on many occasions and to witness the growth and transformation of this amazing place from a family cattle ranch to world-renowned wildlife conservancy.
In the 1980s, my friends Ian and Jane Craig and his family collaborated with the conservationist Anna Merz to create the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary at Lewa. They were determined to protect Kenya’s few hundred remaining rhino, whose numbers had dramatically declined in the preceding 15 years from around 20,000, thanks to poaching driven by the market for rhino horn. The sanctuary thrived and evolved into the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 1995, with Ian at the stern.
Ian nurtured partnerships with neighbouring communities to encourage conservation and sustainable land management. This led to him founding the Northern Rangelands Trust, a community conservancy membership organisation. Today, with the help of the Kenyan Government and Kenya Wildlife Services, the NRT supports 35 member conservancies across 4.5 million hectares, or 45,000 km2. That area covers about 630,000 people in northern and coastal Kenya.
The NRT has transformed both the lives of the communities and the wildlife that live under its umbrella. In an area historically fraught with tension and unease, peace is being built and natural resources conserved. The previous 40 years have seen Kenya’s wildlife decline by nearly three-quarters but now, thanks to armed security patrols and rapid response units, the tide is turning. Since 2012, elephant poaching has decreased by 52%.
Elephants are a special part of this region. In 2013, the boundaries of the Mount Kenya World Heritage Site were extended by UNESCO to include Lewa and Ngare Ndare Forest and the Mount Kenya Elephant Corridor which connects them. The 14km corridor follows a traditional elephant migratory pathway. Allowing the elephants to use it again, to cross the private farmland safely through which it passes, has dramatically reduced human-elephant conflict and impacted favourably on other wildlife.
Last year, on a family visit to Kenya, we visited the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy. In the past, young elephants who needed care previously had to be moved to Nairobi and therefore had little chance of being reunited with family groups. The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary rescues orphaned or abandoned baby elephants and cares for them, releasing them back into local wild herds wherever possible. Despite the sad beginnings to their lives, the Reteti elephants are a happy herd and look well as a result of the expert dedicated care of all the highly trained staff. Reteti is another success story for the community-led conservation engendered by the NRT.
We also visited Kalama Conservancy where the NRT have trained women’s groups in various skills to help diversify family income. One of the successful ventures is beadcraft and we were able to see the beautifully intricate jewellery and decorations they are producing.
The wildlife conservancies of the NRT in Northern Kenya are truly inspirational and have received some well-deserved recognition. The BBC filmed David Attenborough meeting Nicky the blind baby rhino being cared for by rangers at Lewa – an unforgettable moment! The Duke of Cambridge, as the royal patron of Tusk, has also been a driving force behind the ivory ban lead by Kenya.
I have tried to give back to to conservation by supporting the NRT and Tusk through my African Sculptures and will continue to do so. I was excited last year to share my passion for Africa with my family. In November 2017, I took my wife and daughters on a safari visiting Lewa, Sirokoi and Manda Bay. It was the holiday of a lifetime and I am delighted that my three daughters now follow Lewa, the next generation. We will be back!
In my next blog post, I’ll write about my visit to another NRT project – the award winning Il Ngwesi Lodge, owned and run by the Maasai community. You can find out more about the Northern Rangelands Trust and other conservation projects in Northern Kenya by following the links below.