Two male lions appear from thick bush and stalk through the scrub far more quietly than expected, given their sheer size. Their movement is stealthy, covering a huge amount of ground in a short period of time. Their muscles ripple with every step; their flesh taut around their lean, strong bodies. They aren’t just any two males. These guys are two infamous sub-adult newcomers, trying to find new territory having reached the age where they are no longer welcome within their old pride.
Trying to establish themselves in a new area of the Maasai Mara – where territorial males are ten to the dozen – is no mean feat. I’ve heard about some of their recent escapades with local females (and their cubs) from our Mara Lion Project; something tells me these two will be just fine. Watching them slink through the scrub, side by side, clearly on a mission, it’s clear that they give as good as they get. And then, as quickly as they appeared, they are gone, deep into the green thicket.
On days like this, it really hits home how lucky I am to lead an organisation that focuses on protecting these magnificent big cats and their fellow predators.
Kenya Wildlife Trust is without doubt a unique conservation organisation – and one I have been honoured to be part of since August 2016. Founded 10 years ago by leaders in Kenya’s safari industry as a way to raise funds from clients to support conservation projects, we are uniquely positioned to connect the tourism industry to grassroots conservation. With some of our founding members still active board members today, we have a long-term, direct link to the safari industry, unlike any other conservation body. From guides to operators, our partners see us as a trustworthy pair of hands, with our focus of putting boots on the ground rather than into big offices.
Our model is a simple, straightforward cycle – we raise funds; we award two-year grants to a curated portfolio of conservation initiatives; we undertake robust monitoring and evaluation of funded activities; and we share the outcomes and impact with our audiences, which drives support and funding.
In terms of our role within the Kenyan conservation sphere, I see us emerging as the country’s principal predator conservation trust. Our focus is on creating sustainable predator populations through our three-pillar approach (Predator Conservation, Community Development and Conservation Education). By raising money for initiatives across all three areas, including our Justice ole Keiwua Scholarship Program, we can invest meaningfully and sustainably in the future of Kenyan conservation.
Since day one, our team has understood the importance of balancing scientific research with community engagement, and the value of investing in people who live in close proximity to wildlife. After all, conservation is about people.
If conservation is to work in the long-term, it is crucial that communities living near wildlife genuinely benefit from it, especially predators, which can threaten livestock resources. You can see this principle reflected in our funding portfolio; we tend to support initiatives with a strong component of community benefit and engagement.
Looking at our flagship Mara Cheetah Project and Mara Lion Project, it’s easy to see that time spent with the neighbouring communities holding film screenings and Q&A sessions, running questionnaires and attending barazas, is just as importance as the more academic fieldwork. Quite simply, we need both to succeed in protecting predators.
Beyond the Maasai Mara, where we strive to stabilise predator populations, we look to Samburu, where we support a local project that monitors and protects lions through a team of dedicated ‘wildlife warriors’ from the local community. Across Samburu and down into Laikipia, we fund a grassroots initiative which supports poor, excluded communities to live in a self-sustaining and empowered way that helps to protect the environment and wildlife habitat. Further south in Amboseli, we work with an organisation that trains young Maasai men who would historically kill lions to protect them from conflict with humans. Each and every initiative that we fund is ‘tried and tested’ – we trust our partners on the ground and and see our support as an investment, helping them to keep the right people on the ground, doing the most important and effective work.
Our curated portfolio of high impact conservation projects is what appeals to our donors. They see us as a trusted partner here on the ground; they can contribute in significant ways from their own base, after their safari is over, safe in the knowledge that we take care of all due diligence, monitoring and evaluation, and communications. This is the real value we offer – as a trusted partner and broker between two worlds that may seem very different, but that are intrinsically connected and reliant on each other for survival.
It’s fair to say that, over the past decade, we have witnessed a growing crisis in Kenya, due to loss of wildlife habitat, increased conflict with humans and overloaded ecosystems. It’s very easy to hand-wring and feel helpless, but we really want to challenge that way of thinking.
Kenya is an extraordinary country, with the most incredible people, wildlife and landscapes – we have so much to celebrate, preserve and protect. Our job, as I see it, is to inspire people to help us protect our wonderful, iconic species for generations to come. It is crucial that we invest in effective conservation solutions now, if our children and grandchildren are to witness our magnificent lions, cheetahs and other predators thriving. With robust strategies and dedicated teams, I believe that we really can make a tangible difference to the future of Kenya’s wildlife.
The Kenya Wildlife Trust’s goals for the year 2020 are:
1. Maintained predator populations across Kenya
2. Increased predator monitoring & conservation efforts on community & private lands
3. Fewer predator deaths caused by human-wildlife conflict
4. More conservancy management plans referencing & integrating scientific data
5. More tertiary-educated Kenyans working in conservation
Established September 2007
Vision – A Kenya where predator populations are a cornerstone of thriving ecosystems
Mission – To maintain viable predator populations through data-driven and community-supported
Team – 4 people in Nairobi and 8 in the Maasai Mara
Flagship Projects – Mara Cheetah Project and Mara Lion Project
3 Pillars – Predator Conservation, Community Development, Conservation Education
3 Ecosystems – The Greater Mara, Laikipia / Samburu, Amboseli / Tsavo
Cost Ratio – 4:1 – for every $1 we spend on operating costs, we spend $4 on our programs
Donations – 100% of every donation to Kenya Wildlife Trust goes straight to our programs, thanks to the
generosity of a few donors who cover our operational costs
USA Affiliate – Friends of Kenya Wildlife Trust (registered 501(c)3 organisation)
UK Affiliate – The Friends of Kenya Wildlife Trust (registered charity with the Charity Commission of England and Wales)