After a year of promises to visit, a couple of weeks ago I finally made the trek out to Tsavo Volunteers. I met the manager of the project, Patrick Kilonzo, last year in Nairobi after we connected through the CouchSurfing website. Then he had told me about the activities his volunteer organisation was involved in, particularly focusing on dealing with the human-wildlife conflict that exists in many parts of Africa.
Tsavo Volunteers is based in Lumo Community Sanctuary, which is part of the Tsavo eco-system. Lumo was set up by the local community, with residents contributing their land for conservation. Community members are still allowed to graze their cattle in the Sanctuary, but its primary purpose is for wildlife protection. The park entry fees collected from visitors are fed back into the community and distributed amongst the approximately 2500 shareholders. This goes some way to ensure community members are not tempted to engage in poaching activities.
While I was there, a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) conference was being held in the adjacent Taita Hills Sanctuary. The delegates came to Lumo to learn about the activities being conducted to protect elephants. CITES are currently undergoing an investigation into releasing ivory onto the market. There is pressure from Southern African nations who hold large stockpiles of ivory, but Kenya Wildlife Service is against it. Even though elephants are enormously destructive (indeed throughout Lumo there were large swathes or land with not an upright tree in sight), opening the ivory market could see the end of these beautiful creatures.
The day I arrived, Patrick treated me to the best experiences of the area: a glass of red wine at Lions Bluff Lodge watching the sunset over Mt Kilimanjaro, followed by dinner at Sarova Salt Lick Lodge seated by the window watching herd of elephants come to drink water at the water hole located just outside. It was challenging to have a conversation over the bellows of the elephants though!
The following day, we went on patrol. Two volunteers were already at Lumo when I arrived: Elizabeth from the US and Nils from Germany. Together with Patrick and Agnes (wildlife specialist) we patrolled the Sanctuary, making sure none of the animals had snares and everything was as it should be. As well as elephants, we saw ostriches (courting and mating, what a show!), waterbuck, impala, gazelle, striped hyena, buffalo, and plenty of birds.
In the afternoon we visited the school where Patrick is working on a chilli-growing project. Elephants do not like chilli, making it a good crop for villagers to grow. They can sell it at market or exchange it for other vegetables from other villages. Other activities they undertake include making paper out of elephant dung to sell to tourists. Instead of fighting against the elephants, Tsavo Volunteers is dedicated to working with the community to find ways of using the elephants to generate income sustainably.