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Why the Heck Is Conservation Important Anyway?

Why the Heck Is Conservation Important Anyway?

Last year we lost Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, leaving only two females remaining in the world.  However, the people at Ol Pejeta Conservancy are dedicated to protecting those two rhinos, not to mention rescuing chimpanzees from circuses and other unpleasant situations.  This post takes you on a tour of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, looking at their various projects, as well as the practicalities of how you can visit.

Located three kilometres south of Nanyuki, Ol Pejeta is one of many conservancies in the Laikipia region.  Conservancies are privately owned (as opposed to National Parks which are government-owned) and usually come about as ranchers set aside a part of their farm for conservation purposes.  The vegetation is allowed to grow naturally and wild animals come to these safe havens away from human habitat encroachment.  Ol Pejeta also works closely with the community, establishing a school and helping other farmers in the area with sustainable farming techniques and human-wildlife conflict.

What to do in the conservancy

As with other game parks, the most common activity is to go on game drives through the conservancy.   Lions, waterbucks, (southern) white and black rhinos, leopards, hippos, topi and other antelopes can all be found at Ol Pejeta.  There are two specific places however, that make Ol Pejeta unique: the Endangered Animals Enclosure and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

The Endangered Animals Enclosure is where you will find the two Northern White Rhinos pondering the demise of their kind.  Together with other stakeholders, Ol Pejeta is raising funds to attempt IVF for the female Northern White Rhinos.  The rhinos are aging however, so it’s a race against time and increasingly it looks like they will have to use a southern white rhino as a surrogate.  Recently, the conservancy started to offer horse rides through the Endangered Animals Enclosure, adding another level of excitement to visitors’ experience of the conservancy.

The Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place in Kenya where you can see chimps.  The chimpanzees have all been rescued from abusive situations whether they were in a circus or kept as pets or other entertainment.  As a result, they can be a little unfriendly, but after some time getting to know their new family and adapting back to the wild they settle into their new life.  The first time I visited, one chimp seemed to be carrying a lot of anger and was throwing sticks at visitors – fortunately there’s a fence between humans and animals.  But his aggressive behaviour was indicative of the circumstances he had lived in before coming to Ol Pejeta.  A ranger will take you on a guided walk around the sanctuary and tell you about some of the chimps – they have names and each has its own story.

There are several accommodation options within the conservancy ranging from the luxurious to the basic.  There are three public campsites that require you to bring all your own food, tents, cooking equipment and carry your rubbish out.  They supply firewood and will dig a toilet if you book in advance.  No showers though.  The largest lodging is Serena Sweet Waters Camp; a luxurious tented camp arced around a large waterhole.  The tents are spacious with en suite bathrooms and four-poster beds.  Meals are buffet-style and the dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the waterhole – dinner AND a show!  Pelican House is a self-catering guesthouse perfect for families and small groups to rent exclusively.  The Stables are a budget accommodation with full service while at the other end of the spectrum is Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages, Kicheche Laikipia Camp and Porini Rhino Camp.

For those interested in spending a longer amount of time to learn more about the conservation and community work of the conservancy, two-week volunteer programs are available.  They also have a Junior Ranger program for children aged 4-12 years, making this conservancy one of the most family-friendly in Kenya.

Ol Pejeta is about a four-hour drive north of Nairobi on a decent highway.  The last 20 kilometres is on a dirt road from the highway to the entrance gate.  If time is limited, you might prefer to fly from Nairobi to Nanyuki from where your accommodation in Ol Pejeta can arrange a pick up.

Would you like to visit Ol Pejeta?  Get in touch with us at OTA to organise your visit, either as part of a longer safari or as a special weekend away.  We recommend at least two nights if Ol Pejeta is to be your only safari destination, but it also makes a great overnight stop on the way to Samburu National Reserve.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning this exotic safari experience.

Improving Maternal & Child Health in Masai Land, Kenya

The well-being of mothers, infants and children determines the health of the next generation and can help predict future public health challenges for families, communities and medical care systems. Moreover, healthy birth outcomes and early identification and treatment of health conditions among infants can prevent death or disability and enable children to reach their full potential.

Despite major advances in medical care, critical threats to maternal, infant, and child health exist in the Masai District of Narok. Among the most pressing challenges, are reducing the rate of pre-term births and reducing the infant death rate.

More than 80% of women in Narok District will become pregnant and give birth to one or more children. Most of these women suffer pregnancy complications ranging from depression to the need for a cesarean delivery. Although rare, the risk of death during pregnancy has also been witnessed.

Each year, approximately 12% of the infants are born pre-term and 8.2% of infants are born with low birth weight. In addition to increasing the infant’s risk of death in its first few days of life, pre-term birth and low birth weight can lead to devastating and lifelong disabilities for the child. Primary among these are visual and hearing impairments, development delays, and behavioral and emotional problems that range from mild to severe.

Scarcity of Maternal and Child Health Community Centres has also contributed at large as the biggest challenge in Narok North District. Expectant mothers are unable to receive early maternal services and end up delivering in homes under less care and poor service; this poses a big danger to both the mother and the infant.

In order to curb this challenge, the Ewang’an e Suswa Community-based Organisation is raising funds to assist in the complete establishment of the Ewang’an e Suswa Community Health Centre. The Health Centre’s goal is to make services available to all residents of Suswa in Narok North District. Emphasis is placed on ensuring services to child-bearing women, infants and children. The organisation received a donation from the Japanese Government towards the construction of the Health Centre which is currently underway but the funding is only enough to construct an out-patient facility.

In order to accomplish its goal, the Ewang’an e Suswa Community-Based Health Centre will:

  • Promote the delivery of high quality, comprehensive, family-centred health services for women, infants, children and adolescents
  • Monitor relevant health status indicators to identify, assess and proactively plan for current and future areas of need including proposals for regulatory change for the general community
  • Promote early pre-natal care, breastfeeding, provision of nutritious food, and health education to improve pregnancy outcomes and child care
  • Once fully established and equipped, the Centre would also act as a treatment centre for both out- and  in-patient illnesses giving priority to Maternal Health care, Malaria and HIV/AIDs (Prevention of mother to child-PMTCT)
  • The Centre will also act as a control centre providing advice on prevention and outreach interventions

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A Message from Blue Bells

Dear Friends & Supporters,

Meet Hanna. She is 4 years old and attends pre-school at the Blue Bells Orphanage in Busia. Because she and her family know that education is a path out of poverty, Hanna walks two kilometers a day to get to and from school.

But Hanna doesn’t complain. Going to school means she will learn to read, practice drawing, and importantly, receive a free and nutritious lunch as part of the BCS’s school meals program. This means that Hanna won’t go hungry throughout the day — she’ll remain sharp through the afternoon, and still have the energy to play at recess and make the walk home at the end of the day.

A monthly donation of $20.15 — or any amount — will help ensure that Hanna and other of kids like her across  Busia -Alupe continue to receive school meals and other essential support. 

Please donate today to help create a brighter future .

Thank you and happy holidays,

Chrisphine Ochieng Okumu

Blue Bells /kenya

+254 729049433

If you would like to find out more about how to donate to Blue Bells, please contact Tracey at tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com or check out the Blue Bells Facebook page and contact them directly.

Chrisphine kids

Muungano Development Gateway (MDG), the NGO responsible for Blue Bells Orphanage, is seeking volunteers with agricultural expertise.  In order to fund their activities (including the orphanage, a school, and to support those families fostering orphans in their own homes) they are distributing soya bean seeds among the community with the intention that each family will take what they need, some will be used for the feeding program at the school and the rest sold to provide income for the community.  So far 320 farmers are growing soya beans, supporting 120 orphans.  To expand this income-generating project, they are looking for people with expert knowledge in how to be more effective and efficient in growing the crops.

Additionally, the teachers at the Blue Bells School are stretched and all work as volunteers.  They receive a small salary as and when MDG can afford to give them something, but for the most part they volunteer.  If you would like to join these amazing Kenyans giving their time freely to educate the next generation, they would appreciate more teachers to serve the growing number of students.

If you are interested in either of these volunteering opportunities, please contact Tracey at tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

Nairobi to Kigali Tour Part 1 – Nairobi to Maasai Mara

The mess of traffic provided immediate entertainment for Chris and Tom when they arrived in Nairobi.  Roundabouts with traffic lights and policemen all sending conflicting messages to drivers creates a show for new arrivals.  We managed to arrive at Roussell House in one piece, and enjoyed a welcome Tusker (Kenyan beer) in the beautiful gardens.

The trip started with a visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.  Elephant orphans from all over Kenya are rescued and reared here after their mothers have died as a result of poaching, falling in a well, or natural causes.

Afterwards we headed to Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum and the second largest on the African continent.  Ben and Pius of Amani Kibera met us and we enjoyed a local lunch of pilau (rice with spices and meat).  After lunch we walked to the library and the girls’ centre both established by Amani Kibera.  Despite being confronted with the poverty, Chris commented that there was a ray of hope through Amani Kibera’s work and we were not left with a feeling of hopelessness as often happens when visiting such a place.  Instead, the positive energy from the Amani Kibera team could only inspire us.  At the girls’ centre, a meeting of local performers had just concluded a planning meeting for the upcoming Amani Kibera festival.  We spent time talking with some of them about their work in the community before they invited us to the pub to watch football – go Gor Mahia!  We had been completely embraced by this community and no longer felt the tourist/local divide.  What a great welcome to Kenya!

Tom donates some books to the Amani Kibera library

The following day the “real safari” started.  In the morning we drove to the Amboseli region where we would spend two nights at Maasai Simba Camp.  After lunch we were introduced to the people who run the camp and learnt about the community projects supported by the profits.  In the late afternoon we went for a walk with some of the moran (warriors) to see the sunset over Mt Kilimanjaro.

A full day was spent in Amboseli National Park, one of Kenya’s premier parks.  Before we entered the park we were greeted by dozens of giraffe along the side of the road.  Inside the park we saw elephants, reedbuck, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, waterbuck, warthogs and an array of birdlife including egrets, Grey Heron, Blacksmith Plovers, Crowned Cranes, ostriches, Fish Eagle, weavers, Superb Starlings and African Jacanas.

Early the next morning we went for another walk with the Maasai and we were so lucky to see a “naked” Kilimanjaro!  The mountain is usually covered in cloud but this morning it was completely clear.  As we stood on top of a hill and watched the sunrise over Kilimanjaro, our guides showed us how to clean our teeth Maasai-style, with a special stick that breaks down into a brush.  As we descended the hill we found the tree whose sap provides the toothpaste.  We saw a black-backed jackal as we walked, which made us wonder what else was lurking in the undergrowth, but only met some hornbills.  On returning we said farewell to our hosts and headed back to Nairobi, where Tom and Chris went for complete contrast by having dinner at the historic Stanley Hotel.

Tom and Chris brush their teeth “Maasai style”

To the Maasai Mara next for another wildlife spectacular!  We set off early in the morning for the reasonably arduous drive to Kenya’s top tourist attraction.  We were greeted immediately by warthogs, impalas, giraffe, zebras, a mother elephant and her baby and finally some lions.

Join OTA between 3rd and 23rd November for another Kenya to Kigali Adventure.  Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to book your place today!

My Visit to Tsavo Volunteers

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.

Sarova Salt Lick Lodge where the elephants congregate night and day

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.

Sunset over Mt Kilimanjaro

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.

This buffalo just stood right on the road and did not care about our approaching vehicle!

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