I feel like banging my head against a brick wall here - but, like a dog with a bone, I'm afraid I'm not letting this go.
My Sarara Camp post elicited a slew of racially motivated comments when I alluded to the fact that the camp had been 'given' to the local community and top paying foreign tourists were, in some way, 'donating' to the local community by staying there. "AHHHHHH - I hear you all scream again!"
HOWEVER, I'm blocking my ears and carrying on. The truth is, (in spite of the fact that any publicity is good publicity) I really feel I have done the camp a disservice by not expressing properly what it is going on vis-a-vis them and community conservation in Northern Kenya. I apologise for that and I know that your bug-bear is not with the camp but with how I explained what they do...So I am now going to expand so that EVERYBODY understands the point that I tried putting across so clumsily in my previous post.
Yes, I am an outsider to Kenya, a foreigner, but I'm just laying it out as I see it I'm afraid. I think this further explanation is an exercise worth doing because there are amazing things going on up in Northern Kenya and very few people actually know about it.
I do ask any of the pervious 'Anonymous' nay-sayers to read this post and comment again if there are any further questions, so that together we can have a full understanding here.
Background to the Mathews Range area - a bloody history
In the early 1970s, the Mathews Range was absolutely full of game. The perfect environment for elephant and rhino among other animals such as reticulated giraffe and Grevy zebra. However, In 1977 there was a ban on legalized game hunting in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Without the infrastructure of shooting blocks and visiting hunting parties who had been paying top dollar to visit the less inhabited areas, North and East of Kenya became extremely exposed to poaching, mainly by Somali Shifta who came into Kenya in their droves to poach ivory and Rhino horn.
In less than 10 years, it is estimated that 30,000 animals were killed. Very little remained. Rhino were killed off completely, a few frightened elephant scattered and without them the landscape turned quickly to dense bush, a harsh environment for other to live in animals too. The landscape became barren and unpenetrable.
We all know that Meru and Kora National Parks were ravaged by poachers (if not, read Born Free or Born Wild by lion conservationists Joy Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn respectively).
The same problem was experienced within the Mathews Range forest eco-system except obviously this area was not a gazetted national park. Local pastoralist communities, for instance, living in and around the Mathews Range, who historically have been marginalized both politically and economically in Kenya and prone to longstanding ethnic rivalries, were terrorised, murdered; literally caught in the crossfire.
In 1989, when Ian Craig and his friend Kinyanjui were camped out on a hill right opposite what is now Sarara and by chance witnessed a whole herd of elephant being massacred by Somali poachers, they were shocked but also motivated to act. They felt that the appalling situation could not continue. The first step Ian Craig made was to encourage the local community north of his ranch Lewa to build Il Ngwesi, a community run camp which continues successfully to this day. But a larger area needed security. The Mathews Range is vast. His next idea was to set up a camp at Sarara even further north, intended as another avenue through which funding to secure this fragile area could be raised.
Nothern Rangelands Trust
Working with the Kenya Government, in 1995 The Northern Rangelands Trust was established in partnership with The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy etc. Please click on the link above, because it makes interesting reading. The NRT's role is to provide an infrastructure for local communities to communicate and ensure security in the area.
To quote their website:
The Northern Rangelands Trust has an expanding membership of Community Conservancies and encompasses over 3 million acres. It provides these communities with a forum for exchanging ideas and experiences, and is a technical, advisory and implementing organisation for its members.
Specific objectives of the Northern Rangelands Trust are: •Ensure the conservation, management and sustainable use of the natural resources within the Trust Area; •Promote and develop tourism and all other environmentally sustainable income-generating projects within the Trust Area; •Promote culture, education and sports of the residents of the Trust Area; •Promote better health of the residents of the Trust Area through the provision of better health services and facilities;
•Alleviate poverty of the inhabitants of the Trust Area through improved social services, provision of employment and establishment of community-based enterprises; •Promote and support trusts, corporations, NGOs and other charitable organisations with similar objects to those of the Trust.
BUT - organisations like the Northern Rangelands Trust need funding. So this is where a vital place like Sarara comes in.
The Complicated bit:
Sarara Camp falls under the umbrella of the Northern Rangelands Trust (an area that now covers 3 million acres) and is located within an area called the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust (which was initially 180,000 acres and is now 850,000 acres in size). It goes without saying that The Trust doesn't OWN this vast area land, the Trust is set up to benefit the people who already live there.
When the Namunyak Trust was set up and it was proposed that a camp might be built for tourists, whose profits would benefit the local community, there was instant distrust amongst the local community. Are white men trying to take our land? However, before setting up Sarara Camp or The Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust there were a lot of meetings with members of the local community to address this sensitivity, a lot of communication, a lot of discussion with elders. It was a long, process.
The NWCT headquarters are now located in Wamba and the trust is administered by locally elected community elders. Ian Craig and the manager of Sarara Camp are also on the committee.
It's worth pointing out here, that setting up Sarara was also a leap of faith for those who came in to build and run the camp. Which overseas tourists would want to come and pay to visit an area with no animals? However, they believed (with what appears to be blind faith) that with a new found security, the animals would return to the area. It has taken 15 years but today we can see that animals have come back - though there is still a way to go.
Securing the area
But how to ensure security in this fast tract of land?
There are now 40 scouts in the NRT area, all selected from various communities around and about. Each and every scout/ranger has undergone 6 months to 1 year of KWS training (paid for by the trust), all are allocated hand held, solar powered radios and they report back to one of 19 area HQs in case of problems, sightings of poachers etc. The HQs are all equipped with a radio room, manager's office, accomodation/housing for the scouts/rangers plus a cooking space, meeting space etc. The conservancies are grouped into regions with regional managers who oversee issues. Most of the regional co'ordinators have MA degrees - their higher eduction funded in many cases by the trust too.
The system is working
On seeing how local people were benefiting from the NWCT scheme, where the all important security was provided, health and education schemes, water initiatives - many other pastoralist communities wanted to join the Namunyak Trust too - that's why the area under the Trust auspices has grown phenomenally from a 180,000 acre to a 850,000 acres in a relatively short time. But to provide support to such a huge area also requires yet more money.
Sarara needs to raise enough funds for the rapidly growing Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust. In 2010 they raised $150,000 for the local community. I'm afraid that Il Ngwesi makes far less from tourism because the at the moment, the Sarara model is far more profitable - however all income streams are obviously a bonus for the Trust.
In tune with NRT guidelines, this is exactly how Sarara profits are split:
Sarara Camp donates 60% of profits to a community run trust who invest the money in community development, education, healthcare, water development and a scheme whereby there is compensation available for the local population when wildlife comes into conflict with their property.
The remaining 40% of revenue earned is earmarked for the Northern Rangelands Trust operating costs, including conservancy staff, security and infrastructure maintenance.
So - believe it or not - there's no-one pocketing armfuls of cash at anyone else's expense.
This is hard to swallow but in addition, having originally built Sarara Camp using personal funds in 1997, in an unprecedented move the owner/manager donated the entire lodge to the local community so the buildings, fixtures and fittings, infrastructure/water system, everything he paid for at the outset, is now wholly owned by the Samburu communities of the Namunyak Trust.
First hand feedback
I spoke to many of the Samburu who worked in and around the camp. They said that when elephant used to come and destroy their wells they would kill the elephant - not for the ivory, just in frustration for many days work destroyed. It's a different story now that the Samburu can now get compensation from the Namyunak trust or NRT - they said that there's no need for killing any more. A ranger comes and photographs or reports on the damage and then a claim is made. The wildlife/human conflict is fairly dealt with, everybody is happy.
Whereas before wildlife was a nuisance, the Samburu can see now that tourist dollars, administered by their own elders, contribute to a car for taking a sick member of their community to hospital, or to bursaries for their childrens' education, something that they would never get from their own government.
In fact the trained Samburu guides we met are absolutely proud of their wildlife, are hugely knowledgable and can read the landscape, the spoor of wild animals, the flora and fauna - with incredible insight. These guys are the ones who make the Sarara Camp experience so rich and worth paying a premium for.