Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations

by Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Safeguarding Ol Pejeta's Rhino Populations
Our Anti-Poaching Unit is the core of our security
Our Anti-Poaching Unit is the core of our security

Last year, we asked you to help us at a time when you were very uncertain of your own future, and you did not hesitate. Thanks to you and the response to this campaign, we managed to keep our core operations running and celebrated our third year of zero rhino poaching.

Just like everyone else in the world, we started 2021 with great hope that the worse of the COVID-19 pandemic was behind us, that we would be allowed to return to normal and that our tourism would pick up again. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

Kenya was, just before the Easter celebrations, placed under another lockdown. This means that any tourism revenue that we had hoped to generate during this usually busy period was suddenly gone. Additionally, we have been put on the Travel Red List of some of our biggest tourist source countries threatening our core operations income. However, because of your generosity, we have been able to continue successfully safeguarding Ol Pejeta's rhinos through the first quarter of 2021.

How did we use your gifts?

Growing our rhino population
Regardless of everything going on around us, we have managed to keep our rhino numbers growing. Since January, we have had four black rhino births and two southern white rhino births bringing our rhino population numbers to 146 and 39 respectively. Ol Pejeta is going on four years without poaching and all this is because of your gifts that have helped us continue employing and providing equipment for our 140 rhino patrol rangers. The rhino patrol team is responsible for identifying individual rhinos daily on the 90,000-acre conservancy. They are tasked with ensuring that each of our rhinos is accounted for, and for reporting any suspicious activity or rhino injury in real-time back to management for action.

Keeping Our Anti-Poaching Unit Going Strong
Our Anti-Poaching team consists of seven canines and 47 armed rangers who are National Police Reservists. This team is responsible for guarding all the wildlife in the conservancy by patrolling the fenceline daily and responding to any signs of intrusion. They have to stay updated with the latest technology and go through regular physical training to ensure that they are always ahead of anyone who may have ill intentions towards our wildlife.

Between the rhino patrol team and the anti-poaching unit, we spent $53,850 in ranger salaries and allowances, $20,000 in their food rations, and $3,600 in vehicle maintenance and fuel in the first quarter of 2021. 

Supporting Ol Pejeta's Communities
We have always said this, but we like to repeat it. Our communities are our first line of defense against poaching. It has taken us many years of fostering good relationships and conservation education to ensure that we work together to protect Ol Pejeta's wildlife. One of the ways we maintain this relationship is by responding to security concerns in the community through our Anti-Poaching unit, and by responding to human/wildlife conflicts through our Problematic Animal Control (PAC) team. Each of these teams regularly receives alerts from our community leaders and works with the local authorities to mitigate or solve various issues. Since January, our teams have responded to 11 alerts in the communities ranging from petty theft to livestock raiding and bush meat trading, and have contributed to four arrests.

We still need your help
We have a long road ahead to keep safeguarding the largest black rhino sanctuary in East and Central Africa, and we hope that you will continue to walk this journey with us. With only three months into the year and still so many obstacles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are calling on you to keep on being the wildlife advocates that you are to help us achieve all the milestones we need to reach to ensure the successful recovery of these amazing creatures.

Thank you for all your generosity and support. We hope you stay safe and healthy and that we are able to welcome you back to Ol Pejeta soon!  

We have 145 black rhinos on Ol Pejeta today
We have 145 black rhinos on Ol Pejeta today
You helping keeping our rhino patrol employed
You helping keeping our rhino patrol employed
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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

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Young Jobo is finally integrated into the group.
Young Jobo is finally integrated into the group.

It has been almost four months since we launched our Emergency Appeal on March 23rd. We have managed to raise over $100,000 thanks to you incredible generosity. We have received 1,478 donations from 943 donors, which is simply amazing! 178 of you decided to become monthly donors - a fantastic way to suport us during this ongoing pandemic. 

Unfortunately the financial situation on Ol Pejeta is not getting any better. We now anticipate the overall tourism revenues for the year to decrease by over US$ 4m. But our work on the ground continues and, thanks in part to you, we keep fulfilling our mission to protect endangered species and supporting our local communities. Here are some of the things that we have accomplished in the last four months:

  • We are the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. Our black rhino population now stands at 135. Since January, we have welcomed five new healthy black rhino babies.
  • Our northern white rhinos went live with NatGeo and Filipe DeAndrade in their “around the world” Instagram live!
  • We have been nominated by the World Travel Awards for Africa's Leading Conservation Company 2020 and Africa's Leading Private Game Reserve 2020.
  • We have closed off our chimpanzee sanctuary to all visitors. Even though it has not been established that COVID-19 can affect chimpanzees, they are very closely related to humans and this means any diseases we carry could also affect them.
  • We have successfully integrated young chimpanzee Jobo with the rest of the group. After Jobo lost his mother to pneumonia a few months ago, he struggled to find his footing. Thankfully, after a long, gentle process, Jobo is now fully integrated back into the group. Cheetah, Sultana, Saidia and Julia took a liking to him and have finally embraced him.
  • We have donated ‘lion lights’ to community livestock owners, to help minimise lion/ human conflict and loss of income to pastoralists. They have been such a success that the group organised a fundraiser to create another 25 kits. 
  • We continue to use innovative tech to support rhino conservation, explore cost-effective solutions to wildlife monitoring, and even save water. Find out how.
  • 66 households in Tutuu village in Laikipia North received food hampers from the residents of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Estate (MKWE) on Ol Pejeta to support emergency food security during the current coronavirus crisis, which is hitting many rural communities hard. // find out more 
  • We launched Sofa Safaris on our Social Media channels. Since we know you can’t visit us right now, we decided to bring the wild to you. Everyday our team goes out into the Ol Pejeta wilderness and shares it with you.  
  • Our dedicated rhino caregiver, James Mwenda, was the first to be featured on actor and activist, Rhona Mitra's podcast, The Little Ark. They talked about everything conservation, what inspires James to be the passionate ambassador for wildlife that he is, and how people can help ensure wild animals and their speces remain safe. Click link to find out more.
  • We continue to work on Urban Ranch to provide a platform for the talented artisans living in our neighbouring villages. We currently support ten leatherworkers who create beautiful sandals, bags and belts from Ol Pejeta leather, and we’re hoping to expand this to support sculptors, tailors, beadworkers and other artisans in the near future.
  • We had a southern white rhino in North Carolina Zoo named after our rhino caregiver Joseph ‘Jojo’ Wachira.

We want to thank you again for your friendship and your support of our Emergency Appeal. We still have a very long way to go to get through this crisis, but with you on our side, we feel stronger and more confident.

If you have not yet, please share this campaign with your friends and family and ask them to support Ol Pejeta Conservancy and of course, we hope that as soon as it is easier to travel that you can come visit us on the Conservancy.

James Mwenda is featured on Rhona Mitra's podcast
James Mwenda is featured on Rhona Mitra's podcast
Lion lights are donated to our local neighbours
Lion lights are donated to our local neighbours
We have been nominated by the World Travel Awards
We have been nominated by the World Travel Awards
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Organization Information

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Location: Nanyuki - Kenya
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @olpejeta
Project Leader:
Elodie Sampere
Nanyuki, Kenya
$258,380 raised of $500,000 goal
 
4,681 donations
$241,620 to go
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