Ol Pejeta Conservancy
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2009)|
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000-acre (360 km2) not-for-profit wildlife conservancy in the Laikipia district of central Kenya. It is situated on the equator west of Nanyuki, between the foothills of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to conserve wildlife, provide a sanctuary for great apes and to generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprises for re-investment in conservation and community development.
The Conservancy boasts the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and in 2013 reached a population milestone of 100 black rhino. It also houses four of the seven last remaining northern white rhino in the world, who were moved here from Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is situated here, and provides a haven for orphaned, abandoned and rescued chimpanzees. It is the only place in Kenya where these great apes can be seen. The Conservancy is host to the ‘big five’ among a large selection of other African animals, which makes it a popular safari destination. It also operates a successful livestock program, which serves to benefit local pastoralists and wildlife. Through the conservancy's community development programme, Ol Pejeta provides funding to surrounding communities to aid health, education, water and infrastructure projects. They also support the provision of agriculture and livestock extension services and the development of community-based conservation tourism ventures. Because of their holistic approach, Ol Pejeta is largely seen as a role model for conservation.
- 1 History
- 2 Wildlife
- 3 Northern White Rhinos on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
- 4 Poaching and Security
- 5 Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary
- 6 Conservation and Ecological Monitoring
- 7 Livestock and livestock management on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
- 8 Community Outreach
- 9 Visiting The Ol Pejeta Conservancy
- 10 Sports
- 11 See also
- 12 External links
During the colonial era, the Laikipia Plateau was utilised as an extensive cattle ranching area. Lacking the rainfall required to successfully cultivate crops, cattle ranching was seen as the next best way to utilise the land. In those days wildlife was perceived as having little or no value to landowners.
John and Jane Kenyon took over the management of Ol Pejeta in 1949 when it was owned by Lord Delamere and together they spent the next 15 years developing the ranch.
When John first took on Ol Pejeta he was joined by a school friend and business partner of Lord Delamere named Marcus Wickham Boynton. Together they organised the then 57,000-acre (230 km2) ranch into a successful beef producing company. Over the next few years they successfully expanded the farm to cover an estimated 90,000 acres (360 km2).
John and Jane left Ol Pejeta in 1958, returning in 1959 for a further ten years before finally retiring to run their own cattle ranch to the north.
Since that period the ranch has had a number of owners, all entrepreneurs in their own right. They included Lord Delamere’s old school-friend Marcus Wickham Boynton, notorious for occasionally shooting cattle “he didn’t like the look of”.
Another infamous owner was Adnan Khashoggi, a billionaire Turkish-Saudi Arabian arms-dealer and businessman. ‘Khashoggi’ was considered the richest man in the world in the 1980s, Brother in law to Mohammed Al-Fayed and a close associate of former US president Richard Nixon. Rumors of Kashoggi having a boat filled with half naked women that was lowered from the ceiling whilst entertaining guests in the Ol Pejeta Ranch House are unconfirmed.
Over time, cattle ranching became less and less profitable. Increasingly elephant populations that previously used the ranch as a transit area from the north to Mount Kenya and the Aberdares were forced to take up permanent residence on the property. As a result the fences required to maximise cattle productivity were destroyed, becoming impossible to maintain cost-effectively.
Consequently, in the face of declining wildlife populations elsewhere and as a means to effectively utilise the land, the recent past has seen increasing emphasis placed upon wildlife conservation.
In 1988, the Sweetwaters Game Reserve (24,000 acres) was opened by another of Ol Pejeta’s previous owners, Lonrho Africa. Primarily started as a sanctuary for the endangered black rhino, wildlife populations (including the “Big Five”) have steadily increased since that time.
In 2004 the ranch was purchased by Fauna and Flora International, a UK based conservation organisation. The Sweetwaters Game Reserve has now been extended to encompass the entire ranching area to create the “Ol Pejeta Conservancy”, approximately 90,000 acres (360 km2) in extent. This has created the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, with the aim of generating profit from wildlife tourism and complementary activities (including cattle) for reinvestment into community development in the local area.
All members of the ‘big five’ can be found on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy; lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino. Both black and white rhino thrive here, and in 2013 Ol Pejeta recorded the birth of its 100th black rhino. This means the Conservancy is now a Key 1 black rhino population on the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group categorization. It is one of only eight sanctuaries in Africa with this distinction. Other rare animals that can be found on Ol Pejeta include the endangered African wild dog, oryx, Jackson’s hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra, serval, cheetah and bat-eared fox. The more common African wildlife can, of course, be found here too; giraffe, vervet monkeys, baboons, hippos, impala, eland, Grant’s gazelle, dik-dik, plains zebra, silver backed jackal, hyena. There are also over 300 bird species on the Conservancy. All animals are free to move in and out of the Conservancy by way of specially constructed ‘game corridors’ that only restrict the movement of rhinos. Knee high posts in the ground, situated very close together, present no challenge for elephant, antelope and carnivores, who are easily able to jump or step over. Rhinos are unable to do this, and as a result are restricted from moving into areas where they are in danger of being slaughtered for their horn.
Northern White Rhinos on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
The northern white rhino is one of the 5 rhino species still remaining, and only just. Closely resembling its southern white cousin, the northern whites were hit particularly hard in the poaching epidemic of the 80’s and early 90’s. Now extinct in the wild, there are just seven left in captivity, and on December 20th, 2009, Ol Pejeta became home to four of them. Two males and two females were moved from Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic in the hope that the climate and rich grasslands of Ol Pejeta, a native habitat for the animals, would provide them with more favourable breeding conditions.
Sudan, Suni, Fatu and Najin enjoy 24hr armed security and a 700-acre enclosure. Visitors to the Conservancy can see them at feeding times and learn about each individual. Suni was seen mating with Najin in 2012, but tests have confirmed she is not pregnant. Such is the plight of this species that Ol Pejeta is now planning to cross-breed the closely related southern white rhinos with the northern whites, to preserve northern white rhino genetics in hybrid offspring.
Poaching and Security
Poaching and habitat loss are depleting rhino and elephant populations all over Africa. The African elephant is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN list, the white rhino Near Vulnerable and the black rhino Critically Endangered. 1kg of rhino horn, erroneously believed to have medicinal properties by many people in Asia, and used as traditional dagger handles in Yemen, can fetch between USD 60,000 and USD 100,000. 1kg of ivory can fetch between USD 1,000 and USD 3,000. (Prices at the time of writing, Jan.2014). With the tusks of an adult elephant weighing anything up to 50kg, profits for poachers and traders are huge. The trade in rhino horn and ivory is so lucrative that increasingly, poachers are gaining access to automatic weapons, silencers and night-vision to carry out their ruthless kills. Needless to say, protecting wildlife from these criminals is an expensive business. Convention has it that the cost of protecting wildlife habitat doubles with the presence of black rhino. Currently it costs approximately US$70 per acre (US$17,300 per square kilometer) to secure the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, who have a number of security and anti-poaching measures.
1. Dogs. A team of 14 dogs and their handlers assist in several areas of OPC security. The bloodhounds are trained to track human scent, and are often the first on the scene at any incidents. The Dutch Malanois dogs, recently acquired by OPC, have been trained in tracking, attack, patrol, ivory detection, weapons detection…etc.
2. Aircraft The Conservancy operates a Piper Subercub, a small, light aircraft. This is used predominantly for security surveillance, rhino monitoring and game counts across the Conservancy and surrounding wildlife areas.
3. Drones Ol Pejeta made headlines in 2013 as it set out to redefine the future of conservation using drones, together with a team from the Airware Company in the USA. Airware are in the process of developing the Aerial RangerTM – a multi-role drone with a simple operating system, that has the capacity to deliver real time video and thermal imaging feeds to a team on the ground. Deployed in a poaching incident, this drone will have the capability to help armed teams on the ground, and to record footage for use in court. But the deterrent factor alone could have a significant impact on poaching incidents. The Aerial RangerTM will also be able to make huge contributions to Ol Pejeta’s ecological monitoring department. The conservancy conducts a wildlife census across its 90,000 hectares just once a year. To do this, it has to engage around 13 hours of light aircraft time at USD 220 an hour. Not only that, but the data collected is subject to a large degree of human error, as the co-pilot identifies and counts dots on the ground. The Aerial RangerTM could do all this in a day, at almost zero cost, recording footage that can be watched several times over and carefully analysed. Censuses could be conducted monthly, providing experts with valuable and more reliable data about the Laikipia ecosystem.
4. Armed Teams The Conservancy operates a number armed teams. These are self-sufficient, mobile teams able to spend extended periods of time in the field. These teams have been trained to operate day and night and to respond to incidents, not only within the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, but in conjunction with local authorities outside of the Conservancy.
5. Rhino Patrols There is a coverage rate of one rhino patrol team to 3,500 acres (14 km2) within the core conservation area of Ol Pejeta. The patrol teams’ key objective is the monitoring of the black rhino in the form of data collection and security, but their monitoring of the area also benefits other key species within the Conservancy.
6. General Security General security teams operate in areas outside the main conservation area. These areas still carry valuable concentrations of wildlife such as the endangered Jackson’s hartebeest. The monitoring of wildlife and the security of Ol Pejeta’s logistics teams, which operate within these areas, is essential.
7. Fence The Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s fully electrified perimeter fence, not only demarcates the Conservancy’s boundary but also prevents human-wildlife conflict. Efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict have significantly strengthened relations with surrounding communities. The fence keeps the rhino from wandering into dangerous territory, while safely directing elephants along their migratory routes. Ol Pejeta currently has a fence attendant for every 7 kilometers of fence who conducts maintenance and provides security in the form of insurgence detection. The fence is monitored 24 hours with a response team based at the control offices to respond to any incidents at night.
8. Communities The Ol Pejeta Conservancy works closely with surrounding communities on incidents related to insecurity through the provision of tracker dogs, transport and close relations with local authorities. This close working relationship in return, provides security to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the form of information gathering and recruitment opportunities.
Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary
The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is incorporated within the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and is the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered and remarkably intelligent species can be seen. The Sanctuary opened in 1993 in a negotiated agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute. The facility was initially established to receive and provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from west and central Africa. An initial group of three chimpanzee orphans were brought to the sanctuary from a facility in Bujumbura, Burundi, that needed to be evacuated due to the civil war. This was followed in 1995 by another group of 9 adult chimpanzees, and another 10 in 1996. Over the last decade Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary has been compelled to keep accepting chimpanzees rescued from traumatic situations bringing the total number of chimpanzees in the sanctuary to 43.
At the Sweetwaters Sanctuary, chimpanzees are nursed back to health and enjoy the rest of their days in the safety of a vast natural enclosure. The chimpanzees live in two large groups separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River. Sweetwaters is a chartered member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), an alliance of 18 sanctuaries in 12 African countries, currently caring for over 800 orphaned and/or confiscated chimpanzees. PASA’s role is to help conserve chimpanzees and other primates and their habitats through public education and lobbying for political goodwill.
Conservation and Ecological Monitoring
Conservation of endangered species in their natural habitat represents a major part of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s mission. The Ecological Monitoring Department (EMD) of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy aims to identify and monitor key variables necessary to maintain healthy trends in both habitat and animal species. Consequently, the EMD sets appropriate threshold levels for key animal and habitat variables which act as early warnings. Whenever threshold levels are exceeded, management intervention is required. In accordance with national strategy and in liaison with the Kenya Wildlife Service, Ol Pejeta has developed a management plan for certain species.
Livestock and livestock management on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
While it is first and foremost a wildlife conservancy, Ol Pejeta is also a profitable cattle ranch, an enterprise run in harmony with conservation. By integrating the livestock with the wildlife, the cattle can be used as an “ecological tool” to manage the rangelands, maintaining heterogeneity and maximizing biodiversity. The trampling effect and controlled grazing of cattle improves the quality of grass very quickly. Cattle are held overnight in mobile, predator-proof structures, which then create ‘hot-spots’ of nutrient- rich grass favoured by herbivores. Cattle production also provides valuable additional revenue for the Conservancy. OPC currently has three breeds of indigenous pure-bred cattle. Ankole, Jiddu (or Serenli), and Boran. In fact, it holds the largest single herd of pure Boran cattle in the world: 6,500 top quality Boran breeding cows. A small proportion of the Conservancy has been set aside as a predator-free breeding centre. There is also an abattoir on site.
Through business enterprises and with the help of willing donors (both large and small) the Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to develop the funding necessary to pay for wildlife conservation work, and to provide financial assistance to projects aimed at improving the livelihoods of the people living in neighbouring communities.
By the end of 2011, Ol Pejeta Conservancy had raised and dispersed over US$ 4 million in support of its community development programme. They work with local government and a variety of elected community representatives across the district to identify projects that qualify for assistance from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. All projects supported are assessed on a case by case basis, and must contain some element of community contribution. They aim to concentrate on the following core areas: health, education, water, roads, provision of agriculture and livestock extension services and the development of community-based conservation tourism ventures.
Visiting The Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Ol Pejeta remains a popular safari destination for both local residents and international visitors. The Conservancy has 7 accommodation options: Sweetwaters Tented Camp, Ol Pejeta House, Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, Porini Rhino Camp, Pelican House, Kicheche Laikipia Camp and private campsites.
Entry fees at the time of writing (Jan.2014) are as follows (per person, per day): East African citizen: Adult 1,100Ksh, Child 550Ksh, Student 275Ksh. Kenya resident: Adult 2,200Ksh, Child 1,100Ksh, Student 550Ksh. Non resident: Adult 90 USD, Child 45 USD, Student 23 USD. Additional fees apply to vehicle entry and most Conservancy activities. Activities include visiting the endangered species enclosure, where the northern white rhinos are kept, visiting the chimpanzee sanctuary, lion tracking, night game drives and guided bushwalks. Conservancy maps are available at the entrance gate for a cost.
There is also a research facility where groups or individuals stay while studying flora and fauna on the Conservancy.
The Conservancy has a cricket ground with turf wicket and Shamiyana (tent) stands. The venue plays host to cricket in the Wild International tournament, which was started in 2007. However the event did not take place in 2009 due to the current economic climate. The cricket section of the Wild Committee unanimously agreed to have the next tournament in September 2010.