Stories from the field: A first-time visit to Meru, Kenya

Katie Arber, Born Free’s Director of Fundraising, has happy memories of her visit to our projects in Kenya, in November 2023, but realises our work is more vital than ever before.

Born Free's Director of Fundraising Katie Arber stands in the middle of the Kenyan de-snaring team

Katie Arber, centre, with Born Free’s Twiga team on a de-snaring patrol

This time last year, I couldn’t have imagined that now, as part of the Born Free family, I would be travelling in Kenya, our charity’s homeland. Like many, the story of Elsa, the Born Free lioness, was part of my youth, and now here in Meru, the wilderness that was her home and its abundant biodiversity, was all around me.

A lone bull elephant emerges from the bushes

A lone bull elephant emerges from the bushes

Within minutes, a lone bull elephant had emerged from the bushes, a landscape so different to the parched conditions I’d been told about prior to Kenya’s recent rains. Lush, verdant vegetation was everywhere as we bumped down red clay tracks and over flooded river crossings, glimpsing a crocodile, brilliant lizards, graceful gazelles and much more.

Just as in Britain, ‘spring’ means it’s time for nature to burst into life. Colourful birds were feeding voraciously on an abundance of emerging insects. Swallows swooped and chirped, circling overhead. Hornbills, with their massive beaks and colourful headgear, flew noisily in front of me, and the strangest of all birds of prey, the secretary bird – imagine the body of an eagle and the legs of a crane – walked slowly through the long grass in search of their favourite food, snakes. Every creature fascinating and with its part to play in maintaining this very special wilderness. I didn’t want to miss anything.

Fortunately for me, I was accompanied by expert colleagues, always willing to answer my questions and share their deep knowledge of their local patch. Whether it was identifying what creature had left its footprints in the mud, or whose refuge were the large holes we encountered as we trekked through the thorny forest on a de-snaring patrol – warthog, hyena and snakes, I was told – every step revealed more about our team and Born Free’s vital work in Kenya.

So many memories and so much learnt about the very real challenges facing the communities and animals that call Kenya home. Hotter summers, droughts and less predictable rains along with changing land use outside the protected parks, make Born Free’s work more vital than ever.

A cow with an eye painted onto its rump

Painted eyes on cows help act as a predator deterrent – this one was printed by Katie

Simple solutions, like the beehive fences I saw being piloted to deter elephants from raiding farmers’ crops, mean there’s a better chance for people and wildlife to coexist, as do the ‘eye cows’ that confuse lions from attacking their valuable cattle. Block printing an eye on the rump of a calf was one of many new and special experiences that I treasure.

Such remote areas are challenging to work in but, even when our vehicle was stuck firmly in the mud, smiles and laughter surrounded me. An abiding memory is the positivity and resilience of everyone I met. I too have hope, thanks to you, our amazing supporters.

Find out more about Born Free’s work in Kenya