LEWA WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY
In 1996, I first visited Lewa where an aggressive male black rhino chased me up a tree! I was helping to round up animals for relocation and learnt very quickly that rhino are a lot faster than they look. I also remember hearing a rhino grazing at night, so close to my tent that it shook the guy ropes. It was quite scary! My first meeting with this amazing animal has stayed with me for over twenty years. The rhino certainly left a lasting impression on me.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy started as a rhino sanctuary with the conservationist Anna Mertz. Now it is a UNESCO world heritage site pioneering conservation through The Nature Conservancy. It currently holds around 83 black rhino which is 15% of Kenya’s total.
CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORY
However, over the last 10 years, 8000 rhino have been killed. There are only around 30,000 rhino left in the whole world. Between 2007 – 2014, rhino poaching increased by 9,000%. Thankfully this is now slowing down, thanks to the conservation and anti-poaching efforts of organisations like Lewa. This is one of conservation’s biggest success stories. You can read more about their impact on rhino and other wildlife on their website.
Some years ago, a female black rhino called Mawingo lived at Lewa. She couldn’t protect her calves from predators as she was blind. I have been lucky enough to meet and spend time with two of her adopted calves, Nicky and Kitui. I loved spending time with them and meeting their keepers, Elias and Kamara.
Watching these two baby rhino enjoy their daily wallow inspired me to sculpt Baby Rhino after Mud Bath. It just had to be done! After a mud bath, the little rhino moved off for a good old scratch on the nearest boulder, like a form of rhino beauty therapy.
There was almost no distinction between the mud and the rhino’s skin! And so I knew I had to sculpt them out of mud, it just felt right. I dug some clay straight out of the ground, bits and all. This gave a lovely texture just right for muddy rhinos.
The boulder in my sculpture Black Rhino Itch 2018 shows the markings of the ancient game of Mbao. You can see Mbao carved into rocks across all of northern Kenya. It is little details like these that I pick up on my research trips, another reason they are so essential to my work.
I have fond memories of meeting Loijipu, an abandoned rhino calf at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Northern Kenya. Thankfully, the Northern Rangeland Trust and Kenya Wildlife Services have successfully released him back into the Sera Community Conservancy.
I have had a lot of inspiration for my black rhino sculptures over the years. Nothing beats observing them and spending time with them in their natural habitat. They exude a dynamic power and energy which I hope I have managed to convey in my sculptures. Sculpting Black Rhino Running 2018 most recently, I was reminded of that incident in Lewa where I ended up in a tree! They really have an impressive bulk and speed.
I sculpted an earlier Black Rhino 2016, also running. I find their anatomy fascinating, how they move, as well as their extraordinary appearance. They look almost prehistoric, I think. Rhino will always be one of my favourite subjects to sculpt.
You can find out more about these amazing animals and efforts to save them at Save the Rhino . And here is one of my favourite pieces of tv ever! Sir David Attenborough meeting a blind baby rhino – just brilliant!