By Felix Paton

photo: The dental clinic

Conserving rhinos creates employment and tourism opportunities which become a vehicle for transforming lives and livelihoods.

In the early 1980s, a partnership between Anna Merz and the Craig family led to the creation of the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary, a black rhino refuge at the western end of Lewa Downs. The conservation work soon attracted tourists anxious to see some of the last remaining rhinos in Kenya.

From the outset it was determined that the benefits of wildlife protection and the resulting tourism should be channelled back into the communities, helping them to develop and improve their own quality of life. The community conservation approach has been widely embraced by other private wildlife conservancies including Ol Pejeta, Ol Jogi and Borana, generating direct and indirect benefits for local communities mainly through employment, healthcare, education, water development and enterprise.

The programmes aim to sensitize the communities neighbouring the conservancies on the benefits of wildlife conservation so that they recognise that it is the rhino and other wildlife that have given them a plethora of benefits. In return, the communities take ownership of conservation initiatives and support the aims of the conservancies.

For example, in the case of Lewa, they have fed children in school, provided bursaries for quality education from primary school through to University (424 to date), built classrooms, kitchens and libraries, provided desks, writing and reading resources, teachers and volunteers. Adults have been taught how to read and write and skills such as crop farming, poultry farming, civic education and the basics of business have also been offered. Students have been able to start and operate a bakers, sew uniforms for local schools, rear poultry and sell chickens and eggs, among other projects – benefits which have come directly from the protection of wildlife.

Training communities on sustainable and efficient farming techniques, as well as methods of diversifying crop production has resulted in a wider variety of farm produce both for their own needs and surpluses to earn income. With irrigation, fruit growing and horticultural production has been possible.

Women’s economic empowerment is an essential element of poverty alleviation. Lewa Women’s Micro-Credit Programme has enabled more than 1800 women to start their own businesses supported by soft loans. Types of enterprises range from crochet, bead works to small farming operations.

Lewa’s four medical clinics shoulder up to 90% of the needs of staff and over 20,000 people from neighbouring communities. The clinics offer diagnosis and treatment in reproductive, preventative, and general health; including HIV/ AIDS counselling, testing and treatment, family planning and hygiene. Lives have been saved, hundreds of children have received immunisation against diseases and mothers have delivered safely in the clinics and child mortality has been lowered. Mobile clinics offer healthcare to communities living in remote areas and visit schools to carry out anti-jigger and de-worming campaigns. School children have been treated for minor diseases and ailments, screened for developmental disorders and teenagers have received teen education and counselling.

Most recently, in 2010, two Lodges based around Laikipia’s most southerly rhino conservancy, opened. Both Solio Lodge and Rhino Watch Lodge have since contributed to the local economy and to many individuals in the local community.

Through a wide range of community projects, rhino conservancies are sharing the benefits of tourism, employment, security, and donor funding whilst leveraging a conservation agenda to meet the compelling needs of surrounding communities, contributing directly towards transforming lives.


Some successful outcomes from bursary programmes

Richard Mbaabu became a senior accountant at Uchumi Supermarkets in Uganda. Dennis Kasoo ran a research consulting company. Fides Mwenda became a highways engineer, Catherine Mugure, a correspondent for a local radio Station, Osman Hussein the Administrative Officer of the Northern Rangeland Trusts, Lucy Kanorio a Clinical Officer, Fridah Gatwiri and Renet Karendi practicing nurses, James Kijuki a teacher.

Stephen Kasoo obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree became the Conservation Tourism Manager of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Joses Muthamia, obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and became the Coordinator of the Soy and Climbing Beans Project at Kenyatta University. Robert Munoru joined Kenya Airways, Ochen Maiyani the Manager Il Ngwesi Group Lodge, Ruth Naitore started a stationery shop, Mercy Ataya graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and taught languages.

Eliud Gilisho is one of Lewa’s sponsored students. Eliud and his school team developed a ‘project’ or app able to detect an explosive or weapon in any vehicle, sending an automatic signal to the police upon detection. It won the award for the most innovative project in Kenya’s science week, 2015. The team represented Kenya in the Diamond Challenge Africa, an international competition held in Delaware University in the USA. Several people wish to purchase the innovation.

Johnson Leteiyo Rana

Johnson Leteiyo Rana, 23, from Il Polei village was brought up in a family of very limited means. Johnson, the first born in a family of six worked very hard in school and wanted to be a pace-setter for his siblings. However, it was a daily struggle for his parents to ensure the chldren ate and dressed well and that each would get a good education.

Successful completion of secondary school education in Dol-Dol Secondary School in 2011, brought joy followed by sorrow as his parents could not afford to pay for a course in a career of his choice. Ol Jogi came to his rescue through sponsorship to join Kenya Medical Training College in Nairobi in September 2013 to pursue a 3-year diploma course in Orthopaedic Technology.

Mobile Clinics

Mobile clinics help diagnose life threatening conditions and diseases not previously detected. A 16-year-old teenager had given birth at home the night before to a baby girl, Lucy. The 18-hour-old baby had low birth weight, an occipital hematoma (collection of blood in the occipital region which is at the back of the head) and was breastfeeding poorly. The crew did initial first aid and urgently transferred young Lucy to St. Theresa, a mission hospital in Kiirua.

An examination of 10-year- old Karen Kinanu revealed she had an undiagnosed childhood heart disease so was referred to a hospital for further cardiac tests. These indicated she had Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), a condition which a child is born with, and known in layman’s terms, as a hole in the heart.


Jimmy Gichuki

Jimmy is a driver and safari guide for Rhino Watch Lodge. Ten years ago he was a struggling farm labourer when he was employed to guard a forest area at the site on which the Lodge was to be built. When building started, materials were sourced locally which Jimmy collected. When the Lodge opened to tourists, Jimmy helped the guides and learnt about wildlife becoming a driver/guide in his own right.

Increasing responsibility meant increasing income from which he has built his own timber house, acquired land and irrigation equipment to switch from crop to more profitable vegetable farming employing local labour while also being able to educate his two children at a higher standard.



Cataracts are responsible for 43% of blindness in Kenya and trachoma accounts for a further 19% of cases, both of which can normally be cured with simple surgical procedures.

In 2014, The Safari Collection, the managers of Solio Lodge located in a rhino conservancy, partnered with Medical and Educational Aid to Kenya (MEAK) to bring free ophthalmic services for the surrounding community. A ten-day campaign on the three biggest radio stations in the area promoted the clinic and conservation in the local Kikuyu language.

A team of 12 worked at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Mweiga, the nearest small town to Solio Lodge, using their consultation rooms and surgical theatre. They screened/treated 1759 patients, performed 170 cataract surgeries, visited four local schools and screened 600 hundred children of whom 171 required treatment for a variety of eye infections, especially conjunctivitis.

The nearest dentist to the Lodge is located about 30km away. Few people are able to afford the costs of the service or even the travel to meet the dentist. SmileStar brought a team of four dentists, three dental nurses, a doctor and two support staff plus all the dental equipment and medicines they needed. Mary Immaculate Hospitals again provided the facilities where over 600 patients were examined, 200 teeth extracted, over 80 root infections treated and over 200 toothbrushes and toothpastes handed out.

Solio Lodge staff assisted with translation, registration and conservation education.


Simon Gikunju

Livestock farmer Samuel Gikunju used affordable artificial insemination from Ol Pejeta to change from indigenous breeds to quality dairy breeds. From 4 litres of milk per day he now gets 40 litres and saves money on disease-treatment.

Anthony Gakuru

Anthony Gakuru was orphaned at an early age and lived with his elder sister and grandmother. He obtained an Ol Pejeta bursary from 2007 enabling him to focus on his secondary education, graduating with a final grade of A- earning direct entry to Moi University, where he completed a degree in Business Management majoring in Civil Aviation Management.

Tabitha Munoru

Tabitha Munoru acquired a water tank with the help of the Lewa microcredit programme. She can now store more water essential for her farming and domestic use.