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SOS Rhino : In the News : Running Wild At Lewa Downs

Running Wild At Lewa Downs

  The Nation (Nairobi)
June 18, 2004
Posted to the web June 18, 2004
John Koigi

As we wound our way through the dense vegetation, we could hear the a donkey braying, occasionally punctuated by the chirruping of the red-billed buffalo weaver bird. We had just crossed the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Park into Isiolo district on our way to Ilngwesi Group Ranch. It was stifling hot and our open-roofed vehicle left us exposed to the dust.

" Welcome to Maasailand," shouted Jonathan ole Ntere, the lodge manager at Ilngwesi, who was also our tour guide. We were a group of 12 journalists from Nairobi on a trip to the conservancy, the venue of the Safaricom Marathon, scheduled for June 26 this year. We were scheduled to visit three projects that are among the beneficiaries of funds raised through the marathon. Two of these - Lebarua Primary School and Ilngwesi Lodge - were 36 kilometres from the conservancy.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy cover 62,000 acres, part of which is thick bush. It is home to a diverse species of animals, notably lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos and giraffes, collectively known as the big five.

As we drove along the dusty, two-kilometre road that connects the conservancy's reception with the Nanyuki-Isiolo tarmacked road, we saw a herd of the endemic grevy zebra grazing in the distance, swishing their tails and distinctive round ears to keep away flies and the midday heat. Beside them were several reticulate giraffes, whose colour matched the parched earth.

" Those are orphans," explained our driver. "When giraffes give birth, they abandon their young ones or leave them under the care of an adult female for a month or two."

On our way to Lebarua Primary School on Day One, we spotted a herd of impalas capering about a muddy pond as waterbucks and an eland chewed cud under an Acacia tree shade.

" Ssh!", signalled ole Ntere, as we stopped and got out of the car for close-up shots. "Noise will scare away the animals, he explained, adding "The cats appear only at night."

Suddenly, we heard the cry of the white bellied touraco species locally known as the "go-away" bird. Its cry was a warning to other animals that there were intruders nearby, so we left. The impalas sprinted away as a few marabou storks abandoned their search for frogs.

Since it is the dry season, vegetation is scanty and competition for food high. Several Loimugi trees have been felled by elephants, their succulent barks peeled off. The trunks of some of the trees have been shielded at the base with wire mesh. "This is the only place to see the clip springer, the greater and lesser kudus and rock hyraxes," ole Ntere informs us.

The following morning, we wake up early, hoping to see some cats. Among the cats, we were told, are a pride of six males nicknamed Narc.

We had spent the night at Lewa House, itself remarkable for its creative design. With a capacity of only 12 guests, the cluster of cottages set on neatly manicured lawns epitomise conservation and recycling. The key holders, beds, toilet seats, table props are all made of roughly hewn wood. Their roughness complements the roughly finished walls.

A few metres from Lewa House was a herd of elephants, seemingly unperturbed by our presence as by broke one twig after another for their morning meal. The sun was breaking from the clear blue sky, its golden rays seeping through the lustrous mist. We drove round several times, hoping to spot more animals.

Though reputed for their ferocity, buffaloes and black rhinos could not stand the sound of the car engine and took off as soon as they heard the noise. We did, however, get to see a few giraffes although we did not see any cats.

Other species in the area include the little known beisa oryx and sitatunga (a shy water antelope). But even without the animals, the smell of virgin bush, unforgiving heat and vastness of the plains gave the place an aura of desolation that made the visit spellbinding.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was born of the Lewa Downs cattle ranch, owned by the Ian Craig family. It became a conservancy in 1995, and boasts 25 per cent of the less than 3,000 of the world's grevy zebra population, 31 indigenous black rhinos and 30 white rhino. LWC works in collaboration with the neighbouring communities in animal conservation and income-generating projects. These include the Ilngwesi group ranch (Ilngwesi means "people of wildlife" in Laikipiak Maasai), Namunyak - a 75,000 acre trust owned by the Samburu community, Lekurruki - a 15,000 acre group ranch belonging to 500 families and Nanyuki Cottage Hospital. These projects are beneficiaries of successive marathons held at LWC. The projects are categorised as education, health care, community development or wildlife conservation.

Projects on wildlife conservation took the lion's share of the Sh7,360,890 raised in the 2003 Safaricom Marathon. The race is unique in that its the only one in the world run inside a wildlife conservancy.

Now in its fifth year, the race is open to anyone. The entry fee is Sh2,500, while each participant is requested to raise a minimum of Sh50,000 in sponsorship. This year, the marathon has attracted top Kenyan runners Paul Tergat, Catherine Ndereba and Joyce Chepchumpa.

Last year, 450 runners took part. There will be two main races in the figure 8 course - 42 km full course and 21km for the half marathon.

Children between the ages of 10 and 15 years will tackled a five-km course in a fun run.

Participants will pay Sh1,000 per night per person for the self-catering campsites, while those at the Safaricom Village will each fork out Sh3,500, for full board.

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