Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Nairobi to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, 13 April 2018

I'll take up the thread of this blog more than three weeks after my return having had time to reflect on the experience.

Lewa Conservancy Air Strip
After a short sleep and a delicious breakfast at the Hemingway Hotel in Nairobi, we gathered for the short flight to Lewa Conservancy.  Because of our travel by light aircraft, we were limited to 32 pounds total baggage packed in soft-sided luggage. The short and comfortable flight departed from Wilson Airport, a small airport close to Nairobi built to handle the many regional flights to safari lodges and Kenya's secondary cities.  Flying from safari lodge to safari lodge is definitely an improvement in the time required to visit many different wildlife areas, but I regret not being able to enjoy the beauties of the Kenyan countryside.  The drive from Nairobi to Laikipia's capital city Nanyuki is only 121 miles on paved roads, and it offers many beautiful sites, from well manicured shambas (farms) to the bustle of Nanyuki itself, a small, vibrant African community, and from the Great Rift Valley to a view of the Aberdare Mountains and Mount Kenya.  But we bypassed all of that by air and were delivered to the Lewa Conservancy air strip, where we were met by drivers from the Lewa Safari Camp.
The Laikipia Plateau is shown in red. 

Mt. Kenya seen from the Laikipia Plateau 
The Conservancy model for wildlife management came about because of the steady loss of wildlife, 70% during the last 30 years according to the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA), a key economic contributor to tourism. According to the KWCA, "Conservancies offer hope. A wildlife conservancy is land managed by an individual landowner, a body or corporate group of owners, or a community for purposes of wildlife conservation and other compatible land uses to better livelihoods.  By placing communities at the center of wildlife conservation and improving conservation incentives, conservancies in Kenya are securing livelihoods while reversing wildlife decline, resulting in the protection of Kenya's iconic wildlife for future generations."  A key driver of poaching and wildlife-related violence has always been the competing pressures from farmers, whose crops can be destroyed in minutes by a troop of baboons or marauding elephants, and pastoralists who require more and more grazing land for their herds and have over-grazed many areas of Kenya. 

Herds of elephant wander freely on the Lewa Conservancy
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, started as a refuge area for rhinoceros.  It's goal is the use of wildlife to support the local community and give them a stake in wildlife conservation.  Funds from tourism in the Conservancy support local clinics, schools, micro-credit programs for women, adult education, improved grazing and farming techniques, and water projects.  As a result of the community buy-in, the Conservancy has not had one rhino poached in the last three years.  A conservancy has more leeway than National Parks in how they allow tourists to view wildlife...on walking safaris, riding camels, etc. In spite of recent rains and tall grass, we saw an amazing assortment of animals in our two days in the Conservancy.

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