I have mentioned it several times of the last few weeks and now it is finally time to talk about it. The Lewa Conservancy in northern Kenya is often held as the pinnacle of wildlife conservation in Kenya. Out of all the areas I visited in Kenya this area was the best for wildlife viewing. From the moment our bush plane touched down on Lewa’s airstrip we were surrounded by wildlife. In fact we had to run off a greeting party of reticulated giraffes, Giraffa camelopardalis reticulate, and plains zebras, Equus grevii, from the landing strip.

From the airstrip we headed to Lewa’s security compound. Along the way we spotted 4 species of the Northern 5 (Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, and Somali ostrich) species only found in northern Kenya. The elusive gerenuk,the fifth member, was not located until the following day. At the compound we had the distinct pleasure of meeting with John Pommeri, the head of security, who spoke with us about the history of Lewa and their current conservation efforts.

Reticulated giraffe in Lewa

Reticulated giraffe in Lewa

Lewa was founded in 1983. The original conservancy covered 10,000 acres but has since expanded to 45,000. This area is fenced to avoid conflicts with humans which occur when the animals leave the conservancy. As John says, it is not to keep humans out of the conservancy, but to protect them and the wildlife. Lewa tries to maintain good relations with the local community to gain the support of the community for their conservation efforts. They hope that through providing water sources for the community and education to empower women and children they can foster change within how the community views wildlife and deter poaching. Originally grazing of cattle was allowed within the conservancy as part of their community relations campaign. This is no longer allowed as the conservancy has switched to a more natural management approach. To maintain relations the conservancy is teaching local communities how to manage their lands for wildlife rather than cattle so that they can earn income through tourism.

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Lewa has several species which it works to conserve, but the bulk of their efforts are focused on three species: rhinos, elephants, and Grevy’s zebra. As I stated in my post about the Grevy’s there are only 2,000 individuals left including juveniles as well as mature animals. With 400 of the remaining 2,000 calling Lewa home, the conservancy is an area of vital importance to this species. The Grevy’s at Lewa seem to be breeding very well.

Rhinos have been another success story. Lewa has worked extremely hard to protect their rhinos using a combination of technological advancements and old fashioned foot patrols they have been able to protect their rhinos so well that they are now at carrying capacity for the conservancy. As such they intend to relocate excess rhinos at some point in the future to neighboring reserves to start rebuilding other populations. Sadly rhinos are still poached in the conservancy on occasion, but the security personnel swiftly catch up to any poachers that manage to enter the conservancy. Of the three incidents this year one group was forced to flee without rhino horn, the second group of four men was killed when they engaged security personnel in a firefight, and the third group of poachers were captured and convicted.

Grevy's Zebra in Lewa

Grevy’s Zebra in Lewa

Along with rhinos, elephants were the other species that John focused most of his time on. In the past Lewa and the surrounding area have had trouble with the local elephants. Lewa elephants would often brake fences as they tried to migrate to other areas for food and water. Also, the local community has grown so much that they have blocked the path for elephants living in the nearby mountains to mingle with the Lewa herd. This genetically isolation could have led to serious problems in time. So the folks from Lewa came up with a plan. Gaps in the fence were created to allow the elephants and other species of Lewa to migrate in and out as they historically would have. These gaps are built along sections of fence which do not border local communities that may have a problem with wildlife entering their crop fields. Concrete barricades in the gaps prevent rhinos from leaving and entering areas where they cannot be protected but are still short enough that elephants can get over them. The second step of the Lewa plan helped the isolated mountain herd. A fenced corridor was built, including a tunnel to allow elephants to travel under a major road along Lewa’s border, to allow the mountain elephants to mingle with Lewa elephants preventing genetic isolation.

Lewa is really the paragon for wildlife conservation in Kenya. Their efforts have shown many local communities that wildlife is to be valued and conserved rather than eradicated to make way for cattle and settlement. Lewa teems with wildlife and as such has been incorporated into the Mt. Kenya World Heritage Site. This is a wildlife lover’s utopia and I highly recommend anyone traveling to Kenya must see it.

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