Dec 4, 2020

Ending the year with a huge thank you!

Lewa southern white rhino bull being translocated
Lewa southern white rhino bull being translocated

What an upside down year it has been! For those of us who’ve been working on Ol Pejeta for over a decade, this is by far the most challenging 10 months we have ever experienced. When the year started, Ol Pejeta was on a very positive path to growth and success: our tourism was booming; a new camp was breaking ground; we had three northern white rhino embryos; we had just received a very generous grant to build a dormitory in one of our community schools and our visitors numbers were through the roof. But in March, life as we knew it stopped. Kenya closed its borders and within a week, Ol Pejeta was devoid of visitors.

The devastating financial impact of this pandemic didn't become fully clear to us until a few months later. When we launched our Emergency Appeal, we had no idea that we would have to continue asking for your support for so many months. Yet, here we are in December, humbled by how you have stood by us through thick and thin! As I write this end-of-year report, the total amount raised via our Emergency Appeal is at US$167,880; simply an extraordinary amount of goodwill, generosity and kindness. 

Thanks to these funds, Ol Pejeta continued its essential conservation and community work. With the closing of the year, we wanted to look back on some of our successes and share them with you. You are very much a part of our journey and we continue to be deeply grateful for your support and commitment to our cause.  

Northern white rhino programme

Our dedicated team of scientists and conservationists from the BioRescue project performed another ovum pick up procedure on August 18th, despite a few months’ delay due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. They successfully harvested 10 oocytes (immature eggs) from Najin and Fatu. This was the third time the team had collected eggs.  

In the lab, six out of ten oocytes were injected with northern white rhino semen, despite the fact that only two oocytes were clearly matured. Sadly, since the quality of the oocytes was poor, this time none of them developed into a viable embryo. It was very disappointing news.

The team will be back in just a few days to perform another ovum pick up procedure. We recognise how crucial it is to collect as many oocytes, and to develop as many embryos, as possible. We can only hope that our work will not be disrupted again the way it was due to COVID-19. 

In more positive news, we recently sent a team to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to pick up a prime southern white rhino bull. Lewa's team had already selected Owen, 21 year old, who is the exact age necessary for the task at hand. Owen will play a vital role in the next steps of the northern white rhino recovery programme. As we are all aware, nature knows best, and Owen's olfactory instincts will be used to detect when all his new girlfriends - specially chosen to be surrogates for northern white rhino embryos - come on heat. This is an infinitely more accurate, not to mention, practical method.

There's an extraordinary journey ahead, and we'd like to thank you once again for helping us get this far! 

Wild rhinos

When we last wrote to you, in August, we had 133 black rhinos and 35 southern white rhinos on the Conservancy. We are happy to announce that we've since had five black rhinos and two southern white rhino births. This cements our position as the largest black rhino sanctuary in East and Central Africa; something we love to say out loud! 

Every rhino counts on Ol Pejeta and we are proud to be able to intervene when a rhino is injured or in trouble. Recently, our team went to the rescue of two rhinos who would not have survived without our help: 

  • Our veterinarian team, together with the Kenya Wildlife Service, successfully treated a southern white male rhino, Atan, who was injured in a fight with another rhino bull. The cases for intervention depend on the extent of the rhino’s injury and whether the injury will affect the rhino’s ability to feed or access water. In this case, Atan was desperately in need of our help. 
  • The rhino patrol team saved a black male rhino named Meluya from drowning. He had gone down to the river to drink and found himself unable to get back out because of the slippery river banks. This required highly coordinated teamwork from our veterinarian, rangers and even the logistics team, as a tractor was needed to create a pathway for Meluya. Watch a video of his rescue.

Chimpanzees

One of our biggest concerns when the pandemic hit was the possibility of our chimpanzees  getting infected, due to their close DNA ties to humans. There was not much information on the interaction of apes with the virus and we quickly closed off the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary from the public. This meant that the funds we would usually receive from your visits for their food, veterinary check-ups and contraceptives were compromised. It costs us approximately US$5,000 to take care of one chimpanzee for a year, and the future was starting to look bleak as fewer and fewer visitors came through our gates. However, through your generous gifts, we have been able to keep the chimpanzees safe and healthy with no cases of infections. This was done by isolating the caregivers from anybody outside their group and meticulously following safety guidelines. We have also added more enrichment structures like swinging ropes, hammocks, and termite mounds to improve the chimpanzees day-today environment by making it more natural.

We are happy that after much discussion, Sweetwaters is now open to visitors, with many precautions in place, and that you can all visit our dear chimpanzees once again and learn all about their different stories.

Security

In October, we celebrated three years of zero poaching on Ol Pejeta, which would not be possible without our armed rangers and the canine unit. They have been instrumental in ensuring that our fence line is not intruded by conducting daily patrols, and are also a big part of the security response teams in our communities. They frequently assist local authorities in investigating incidents, especially where scent tracking can be useful. Together with our skilled bloodhounds, they have responded to over 40 incidents ranging from theft of electronics and livestock to domestic violence cases. This has helped us maintain a peaceful relationship with our communities, which is crucial for the continued safety of our wildlife

The team very sadly lost Diego – our beloved attack dog –  to cancer, but we are grateful that Daryll Pleasants from Animals Saving Animals is already training another Shepherd to join the team, continuing Diego’s amazing work and legacy. 

Community 

The communities around Ol Pejeta are integral to our conservation model, being the first line of defense in the fight against poaching. They look out for any signs of suspicious people or intrusions and alert our security teams for action. We always aim to align our conservation actions and activities with the things that will benefit them, both environmentally and economically.

Some of our neighbours have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The loss of income and the closure of schools has impacted many of the adults and children. With your continued support, we have been able to redirect some funds to our communities: 

  • We have distributed 30 energy-saving stoves, which have saved the receiving households money and reduced their exposure to lung-related complications.
  • We have distributed 20 laptops to final year high school students in partnership with Afretech, so that they continue learning while schools are closed. 
  • We are on target to complete the building of a dormitory for the children of Mwituria. The whole project is expected to be finished before the end of 2020. In December, the dormitory will hold 120 students in total - out of a school population of around 110.

In Closing

I hope you are proud of some of the things we have achieved this year despite the challenges we faced. I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a happy holiday season and a wonderful end of the year. 

We look forward to welcoming many of you back to the Conservancy in 2021. There is nothing that would please us more than to thank you in person and to let you know how much we value your constant support of our work. You are amazing. 

An ovum pick up took place in August
An ovum pick up took place in August
We said goodbye to our beloved Diego
We said goodbye to our beloved Diego
Strict guidelines for our chimpanzee sanctuary
Strict guidelines for our chimpanzee sanctuary
An injured rhino was treated immediately
An injured rhino was treated immediately

Links:

Oct 8, 2020

Some good news in COVID times!

Inside walls are cemented on the first building
Inside walls are cemented on the first building

Thank you for your continued support of the children of Mwituria. We are very pleased to inform you that despite the enormous challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis, building work has been ongoing. The journey of this project has always been a bit of a roller coaster so we’re really thrilled to be reporting good news, at a time when the children in our communities need it so badly. With all schools in Kenya (as with the rest of the world) having been closed down for so long, it feels really good to be working on something positive in the name of education, and gives us hope and a concrete (!) goal to look forward to. 

Building progress
The first part is on track to completion with inside walls having been cemented and currently curing, and the finishing process has commenced on the outer wall. The slab on which the new half of the dorm will be constructed is also completed and curing as well. The whole project is expected to be finished before the end of 2020. In December, each dorm will hold a minimum of 60 students - 120 in total - out of a school population of around 110.

Back to school
By the time schools open (there has been no official communication on this yet) they should find the school in the process of transitioning into a boarding school. By mid 2021, they will be able to be recognized by the ministry of education as a boarding school and get admissions in 2022 for new students.

Change for good
As you well know, this is going to make an enormous difference to these children. For so many, who have to rise at dawn - sometimes even before dawn - and walk up to 12 kms to get to school, some risking their very lives in the face of wild animals, this will be a proper game changer. Girls, who previously might have skipped school due to the risk of sexual predators lurking along the route, can now attend school every day with full confidence, spending their time and energy on learning rather than being afraid. Living in a dorm increases their school hours by almost 40%, so their chances of doing well go up dramatically. 

It will be the only boarding school in a 15km radius: all the other schools in the area are day schools and face similar challenges. The members of this community live an isolated life, and it’s easy for them to slip into the margins, and for their children to be left behind. Providing them with the education to which they have a constitutional right is, as we know you will agree, a more than worthy cause. That fact that they benefit from this due to the consequences of our conservation work creates a ripple effect that will in turn protect wildlife and wilderness areas both now and in the future.

We thank you again for being on this journey with us. You have been true champions of the children of Mwituria for over a year and we really look forward sending you pictures of the children in the finished dormitories! 

The slab for the new dorm is also completed
The slab for the new dorm is also completed

Links:

Oct 6, 2020

Thank you so much. This is our final report!

Regular ranger training is vital for their safety
Regular ranger training is vital for their safety

Today marks the end of our 'Armed Rangers Campaign' which started at the end of 2019 in support of our unsung heroes - the men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to keep our rhinos and other wildlife safe. In the last 10 months, we have managed to raise a total of $43,542 all of which went to supporting our armed rangers team.

You have shown incredible support, passion and commitment to this cause and we could not be more grateful for your donations and your kindness. We hope you enjoy reading our final report and learning about our achievements in the last 10 months, thanks in part to your donation. We couldn't do it without you. 

Why the Armed Rangers? 
Ol Pejeta’s wildlife is guarded by a dedicated team of 43 armed rangers and a Canine (K-9) Unit of five handlers and seven dogs. They are tasked with protecting every part of the Conservancy’s 90,000 acres, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Keeping any people with malicious intent away requires intensive, frequent training and costly high-grade equipment. Thanks to their hard work and your generosity, we have not had any cases of poaching in three years – though this has come at a high, but necessary, cost. It is the reality we now face after decades of disregarding the environment and the animals around us. 

Their work has been made even harder this year by the devastating global COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of tourism revenue in many conservancies like Ol Pejeta has strained funds that are used to ensure rangers can perform their duties. This has increased the risk of poaching incidents and threatened the livelihoods of these brave men and women. Thanks to our supporters we have received numerous gifts that have enabled us to keep our core operations running, making sure everything we have achieved after all these years is not reversed. 

Training
Technology around the world is changing daily and unfortunately, that means ill-intentioned people are also finding new ways they can hurt endangered wildlife for their own selfish gains. Rangers have to stay ahead of the game by frequently refreshing their skills so that they are always ready. Our rangers are trained by 51 Degrees Ltd, a Kenyan company that specialises in rhino security and training, particularly in the Laikipia area.

Between January and July, Ol Pejeta spent over $30,000 on the training of our armed rangers unit. The team participated in two rounds of refresher training. Each round consists of an intensive 10 days that focuses on weapon handling, bush survival tactics, map reading, GPS, and first aid training. Outside hiring the firm that trains the team, these sessions require the use of fuel, food rations for the team while practicing bush survival skills, and ammunition for weapon handling.

Staff rations
Our armed ranger team resides within the Conservancy so that they can respond to alerts promptly. This means that they are about 15 km away from the nearest town where one can buy day to day supplies. To ensure that they always have the necessities, we provide our teams with ‘weekly rations’ so that they can live comfortably and only go into the town when necessary. The rations include items like tea, milk, bread, sugar, fruit, and other necessities. We have also provided them with three cooks who prepare their meals and ensure that they are eating healthily, so they can keep up with the demands of the job. This boosts staff morale and reduces the headache of worrying about meal planning and allocating time for preparing and cooking food in their hectic schedule. In the first half of the year, we spent upwards of $17,000 on rations and basic supplies.

Staff uniform & uniform upkeep
Each of our 43 armed rangers can only perform official duties while in a full standard uniform. One uniform costs us $250 and we replace them for the entire team every year. All rangers are required to wear a webbing that holds; a tourniquet (a device that applies pressure to a limb or extremity to limit – but not stop – the flow of blood), bandages in case of cuts, thermal image goggles, night vision goggles, binoculars, raincoats, groundsheets, a compass and extra ammunition. Each of these items can be the difference between life and death when rangers are confronting or following leads on a potential poaching threat, and are therefore a necessary part of their uniform. Maintenance of the team’s uniform has cost us over $700 since the beginning of the year.

Veterinary care and animal hygiene 
The K-9 Unit is a critical part of the armed ranger team. It comprises five handlers, five bloodhounds who help with tracking scents, a Belgian malinois who is our attack dog, and a Springer spaniel whose work is to detect ammunition. Every single day this team patrols the vast 90,000-acre Conservancy to look for any signs of intrusion on the fence line, and to track any suspicious leads and ensure that the wildlife are not threatened. This means that the team, including the dogs, need to be in top shape so that they do not get worn out. Every morning the dogs undergo a grooming routine that involves checking for any parasites on their bodies, any injuries or thorns on their skin from the previous night’s patrol, brushing their skin, and cleaning their teeth. Outside the regular grooming, the dogs also require veterinary care for minor injuries and parasite treatment, which costs about $50 a month.

Their diet is also a top priority as it ensures that they stay in shape and do not tire easily during patrols. Their diet is made up of Skinner's Field & Trial Working Dog Food and beef meat (Skinner’s is formulated for working dogs and made from chicken). Our dogs eat approximately 15kg of Skinner’s per month, costing $500.

Responding to incidents
Between January and July, our armed ranger team responded to 25 incidents, both within the Conservancy and in our surrounding communities. Protecting the wildlife on Ol Pejeta is our armed unit’s first priority, however, they also help our local authorities in responding to security concerns in the communities. They are frequently called upon to assist local authorities with matters ranging from livestock raiding to household thefts. This has built our relationship with community members and increased their trust in us, which helps in collecting intel on possible threats to wildlife. The open lines of communication have enabled our team to receive leads and prevent incidents, while also keeping the communities around us safe and peaceful. Every day our team receives a report from the community leaders and where necessary, head to the incident location to determine the next course of action. This requires the use of resources such as vehicles, motorbikes, radios, and fuel.

Community incidents
One such incident from the community was a reported case of cattle rustling. Many communities around us are pastoralists or farmers and we, therefore, receive a lot of livestock cases. In this instance, a member of the community was raided by five armed suspects who went on to take 13 of his cows while keeping him captive. Such a number of cows is valued at about $3,900. When our team got there, the suspects had fled with the cattle but our tracker dog was able to follow their scent to a location where nine of the cows had been hidden. However, the culprits were nowhere to be found, and their scent came to a dead end - meaning they had got away on a car or motorbike once they realised our team was after them. The cows were returned to the owner and evidence left to local authorities to follow up on the armed rustlers.

Our team also helped recover over $800 worth of stolen electronics in a community area called Baraka. The house was robbed while the owner was asleep and he reported it the next morning. The local authorities asked our team to help and our canine unit was sent to the scene. Otis, one of our tracker bloodhounds, proceeded to follow the suspect’s scent to a neighbouring town center where he was arrested and handed over to the local police.

Intrusions on our fence line
In August the fence patrol team noticed human footprints within the Conservancy. They were approximately four kilometers from the fenceline and it was noted that a part of the fence had been cut. Otis was deployed to track the scent to try to catch up with the intruder before any harm was done. After a few hours, the scent led Otis outside the fence, which meant the intruder had made an exit and used a motorbike to get away once on the road. Fortunately, we confirmed that no wildlife had been injured and the team fixed the part of the fence that had been compromised. The team are running frequent patrols on that side of the fence to ensure that the culprit does not return. 

Early in June at an area called Tangi Tatu, one of our fencers spotted a footprint that seemed to have been exiting the Conservancy and radioed in our armed team. While some of the team were making sure there were no intruders within, the others went to the scene. Sure enough, there were shoe footprints. To find out the exit point on the fenceline the team backtracked and found that a part of the fence had been cut, which is how the culprit/s got in. Luckily no harm had come to the wildlife or the patrol teams, and there were no intruders inside the Conservancy. The team did, however, increase surveillance of the area in case the suspect returned, and also reinforced that part of the fence.

Such cases help our team to determine weak areas on the fence line and identify locations that require increased surveillance and manpower.

In Conclusion
We hope you enjoyed reading this final report about the incredible work our armed rangers do every day, without fail. Their achievements for the last 10 months, even if in the midst of a pandemic, are nothing short of remarkable. We are very aware that we would not have been able to acommplish any of this without your support. So one last time, and on behalf of our rangers, thank you! 

Armed rangers guard the northern whites at night
Armed rangers guard the northern whites at night
Keeping our K-9 unit healthy requires time & money
Keeping our K-9 unit healthy requires time & money
Weekly food rations were distributed thanks to you
Weekly food rations were distributed thanks to you
The webbing kits are critical to rangers' safety
The webbing kits are critical to rangers' safety
Bed rolls were purchased with your donations
Bed rolls were purchased with your donations
Our K-9 Unit and their handlers say thank you!
Our K-9 Unit and their handlers say thank you!

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