In early February I went to the offices of the Kenya Wildlife Service, just outside Nairobi City and adjoining the famous Nairobi National Park, and received my official identification card confirming that, together with Virginia my mum, I am now an Honorary Warden with the KWS.
Modesty aside, in this special year – when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Born Free’s film premiere – this recognizes the commitment we as individuals but, more importantly, as Founders of The Born Free Foundation have made to Kenya, its people and its wildlife.
I have just returned from two field trips, one to the north and one to the south of this magnificent country.
As part of Born Free’s ‘Year of The Lion’, I travelled with Born Free Kenya’s Country Manager, Tim Oloo (one of our top rhino conservation experts and also an Honorary Warden). In Amboseli, to the south and overlooking Mount Kilimanjaro, we reviewed two of our programmes.
The first involves building ‘Predator Proof Bomas‘ designed to keep livestock safe from lions and hyenas at night time. We have now completed 219 units and, with the help of Land Rover, we shall compete another 30 this year bringing the total to an impressive 250. This is delivering tangible benefits to many thousands of people and tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and goats. Importantly, it also helps reduce conflict with predators and minimizes revenge killings, thus helping conserve some of Kenya’s estimated 2,000 lions.
The second involved visiting two schools we are assisting. Both face numerous challenges in this remote and, at times, harsh part of the country. Lack of reliable water; school infrastructure; the presence of large and potentially dangerous species such as lion and elephant; the failure of some of the solar lighting systems (installed only a few years ago as part of a Spanish Aid Programme but without any follow up or maintenance); seasonal food shortages; and the cost of teaching aids – these are just some of the issues that confront these communities on a daily basis. Our partners at Schools For Kenya have been amazingly helpful and generous and Born Free’s own Global Friends Programme is making a real difference but there is so much more to do.
In the north, we again focused on lions. This time working with KWS to count them in the wild expanses of Meru National Park, part of the 4,000 square kilometre Meru Conservation Area. Again, we could not have done it without Land Rover and their sponsorship of key equipment (not to mention our trusty Land Rover Defender 110). Once we know how many lions there are we can determine whether our conservation efforts, working with KWS, the County Council, local communities and our friends at Elsa’s Kopje Lodge, are making a positive contribution to lion conservation. Our goal is simple: to ensure that Meru and the MCA remain lion strongholds for generations to come.
Our trip also provided an opportunity for Tim to deploy his considerable rhino expertise. Meru has one of Kenya’s famous Rhino Sanctuaries, home to 84 rhino (27 black and 57 white). Tim’s experience has been brought to bear on plans to almost double the size of the Sanctuary and Born Free has already donated important Anti-Poaching equipment thanks to support from Kenya Airways. In addition, on this trip, my friend, photographer Margot Raggett, donated a set of hi-tech night vision goggles to the Meru Wildlife Protection Unit.
Protecting wildlife and assisting the communities that live alongside wildlife is a major part of Born Free’s ‘Compassionate Conservation’ agenda. I am proud of all that we have achieved so far, with the help of you, our supporters.
Of course, being made an Honorary Warden is very special but I truly believe this is recognition for all that we have achieved together and is in anticipation of all we shall achieve in the future – making the world a better place for wildlife, one animal at a time.