I guess the best way to write about what I have been up to for the last 2 months is to give you a few anecdotes and another ‘day in the Lifan’, but first I reckon I’d better give a v quick summary of where I have been and what they (we?) do here. There is a little video thing as well, but a bigger and better one coming soon to computers near you.
Borana is a privately owned wildlife conservancy, tourist lodge and cattle ranch. As you can imagine combining all three of these on one property takes a huge amount of relationship management between the local communities, the guests, the wildlife itself and wildlife protection organisations such as the KWS (the Kenya Wildlife Service). At 32,000 acres there is unbelievable habitat here for all types of game and for those who come to the lodge - it is a private Safari destination from heaven. All the profits on Borana (Cattle and Lodge) go to the conservancy. Rhinos as it turns out are very very expensive children... Try putting 20 kids through private school. At the same time. And at a school that they never leave. And where extra money has to be spent on protecting them from being shot. Yep, costly. My £12000 suddenly looking like more of a donation in the church collection than a really useful amount! Will have to do something really spectacular next....
Borana has 19 translocated Black Rhinos all are electronically tagged (apart form number 21 who is my favourite. Young, feisty, untagged male...) so they can be located every day and then sufficiently guarded at night.
I have been here to learn; to learn about lodge management, conservation, human-wildlife conflict and anything else I can pick up, a Kenyan ranch internship, sort of. Boy have I learnt -it has been fantastic. I have mostly been in the conservancy and not the lodge which is exactly what I wanted, my guest schmoozing skills are already pretty decent (“Bicycle?? Did someone mention bicycles?? No? Well I have a story about one anyway....”) and there is only so much learning you can do on that front!
Right, instead of just describing it all, here comes a day in the life and then my night on deployment guarding the Rhinos from poachers, a bit on my social life and a couple of inevitably hairy moments. I am very aware that this blog won’t be as enthralling nor funny as my cycling blogs! It is hard to be desperately sarcastic when you are permanently in a great mood! Sorry.
5.30am: Wake up in my little cottage (right next to Michael and Nicky’s – the owners- house), get dressed and put on my Borana Conservancy Jacket then get into Michaels very hardy Landrover and head out into the dark.
5.45am: Start driving out on the extremely rough and rocky roads (would have been bicycle hell!) to wherever I dropped off the boys (i.e. Romeo 3 of 4) the previous evening for their night time deployment. This is usually where the Rhinos are either in a high concentration or they are close to the boundary. Usually both.
6.10am: Find the boys, unloading their guns behind some bushes as the sun is rising: “Abari Asabuhi!!” ((Phonetic spelling I am sure of) ‘good morning’). “Good night??”, “Bariddi Sana” – Very cold. As always. Drive them back to HQ by 6.30am (always with a stunning sunrise and Mt Kenya in the background), on the way using my telemetry kit to locate the local rhinos to that area whilst the boys radio in their locations to Bravo Lima- head tracker. Drop the lads off at base, sometimes have chai with them and then go and doze on my bed for 40 minutes.
8.20am: Delicious breakfast with Michael and Nicky. One of the lodge cooks has been temporarily moved over here, I am eating like a king.
9.30am: Go down to the office to help Sam (Conservation Officer) get some close up photographs of the Rhinos ear notches so that I can make a Rhino ID card folder for the lodge vehicles in order to help the guests can get more involved in the conservancy.
This rhino stalking is awesome fun; we radio Zulu 7-zone 7, and ask where numbers sita(6) and her calf are. “Are nane (8) and tissa (10) in the same area?” “NDio” “sawa sawa, asante.” We then head to that area and stalk the rhinos, just as you would stalk a stag. Into the wind and silent. You want to be above them as they tend to charge down hills if they run away (or towards you). Very exciting and with the added excitement that if they charge you, you are, essentially, toast. Much more fun to do things on foot! Every time I see the rhinos so close up I feel so proud that I’ve done my little bit, they are absolutely incredible. So ancient and prehistoric, yet also so athletic and clever. If we let these animals vainish from the wild the world would be a worse place – and we would feel, I hope, extremely guilty for letting it happen.
1.00pm: Back to M and N’s house for more delicious food.
2.00pm: If I’m lucky go on a flight with Michael in his little plane, perhaps go on a drive and set up a camera trap, some office work (game number analysis), go and test the fence voltage, brand some cattle, go down to the local communities with Michael to pretend I understand Kiswahili conversations about cattle grazing, go paragliding, help set up the training camp (the guys here, are trained by an ex SAS serviceman. He is excellent, and a lot of the money I raised goes to v important training programs like this), try and track the extremely rare Painted dog, go down to the tannery and make some sporrans, lead the Lewa Marathon by bicycle, find some cheetahs, shoot (pretty well I have to be honest) military rifles and revolvers at the training camp, pick up a fresh pig for the lodge. Or read my Indian revision Tiger books if there is nothing to do- unfortunately, where I am usually best (manual labouring) there are already plenty of workers (somewhere like Borana employs a huge amount of local people) so finding a bit of fencing work to do for example is quite tricky as there are already about 6 guys doing that job! I am usually used as a driver. Which I love.
4.30pm: Head down to HQ for evening deployments. I am welcomed by chorus’ of the affectionate or friendly mocking (either or both, I’m not quite sure) “Ascari 23!! Number 23! Salaama, Abari A geoni. Mzuri Sana? Iko Sawa?” whilst I reply “Abari Ascari?!”- “How soldiers?!”, I’m not so good at languages you see. But it rhymes. Sam and Kiupe (commander), have analysed the rhinos positions called in by all the Zulu’s (day scouts) and will have accordingly placed three of the Romeos in the most vulnerable places. Anywhere Rhino’s might be poached. Of the 22 soldiers, they are split into four groups (Romeo 1-4), one remains at HQ on standby for the night, the other three are on patrol in the bush all night, waiting for action.
I can’t express how impressed I have been with the guys here, all the way along my bike ride I was often depressed by what seemed like a very poor work ethic and a lack of pride in peoples work. Here, the guys take what they do seriously, they are very proud and they are excellent soldiers. This, in my opinion comes mainly down to a couple of things. The amount of money invested in them and their training and the fact that Sam and Michael (both white) are excellent people; they are always working harder than anyone, setting an example and spending time with their men, conservation is more to do with people management than animal management! The way I have learned most whilst being here is just by trying to spend as much time with Michael as possible and watching the way he operates. I hope he won’t be reading this...
The result of the soldiers training = No poaching incidents on Borana yet.
5.00pm: Drive out with a Romeo group to an Area (I had to learn the names of different parts of the property, fast! That onto of the names of people at both the lodge, HQ, the house, along with Kiswahili, was very tricky indeed) leave them hiding behind some bushes and head home again, sometimes taking myself on a little game drive as the sun is setting.
7.00pm: Supper time, either with Michael and Nicky or I drive over to the lodge to help schmooze on guests. Hannah and Finlay the incredibly nice couple running it, I think are pretty bored of telling the story of how they met, so I come in with a host of boring anecdotes but with enough self assuredness to pretend I don’t realise I am boring!