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THE OL-PEJETA CONSERVANCY

The Ol Pejeta is a non-profit Conservancy which is located in Laikipia County, Central Kenya. The conservancy is about 140 mi2 or 360 km2 and is located at the equator due west of Nanyuki town. The park is strategically positioned between Mount Kenya and the foothills of flowing Aberdare ranges. The main activity here is the conservation of wildlife and providing the much-needed sanctuary for great apes. The conservancy can make income through various ways such as tourism and corresponding initiatives for investments in the community’s development. The conservancy prides itself as the home of the prime black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. It was in 2013 when it attained the 100-rhino mark milestone.

The conservancy also protects the rare white endangered northern rhinos; they are only two globally—these two rhinos were moved there from the Czech Republic. There is a haven for the chimpanzees called The SweetWaters Chimpanzees Sanctuary. It is used to rescue orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees. Ol Pejeta is the only location in Kenya where such great apes can be found. The big five game are also found in the conservancy. Among other top selection of other African predators, it makes it one of the popular ultimate safari destinations. The park also incorporates a livestock program, which has yielded promising results to both the locals and the wildlife. Through the development program’s commitment forged by the conservancy in conjunction with the community, the neighboring communities’ members can now access health and other infrastructure developments. The agriculture and livestock extension services have also been boosted, bringing many benefits to the local communities.

History

The Laikipia Plateau was a vast cattle ranching area during the colonial period. With the minimal rainfall that could not support crop cultivation, animal rearing was seen as the best option to use the available natural resources. During those periods, wildlife was seen as little or no value to those who owned the land.

Lord Delamere was the original owner of the conservancy. In 1949, the couple John and Jane Kenyon took over the ranch management and spent more than 15 years developing it. At the initial stages when the Kenyon couple took the reign, Marcus Wickham Boynton, who was a business partner and school friend to Lord Delamere, joined them. They managed to utilize the then 57,000 acres ranch (230 km2) into a profitable beef producing company with their expertise.

The ranch a few years after the new management began to expand to cover approximately 90,000 acres (360 km2). In 1958, John and Jane Kenyon left the ranch but later returned after more than ten years and finally settling down to run their beef ranch to the north of Ol Pejeta. Since then, the conservancy ownership has changed hands several times, all the owners being business persons in their own right. Some of these owners were Adnan Khashoggi and Marcus Wickham Boynton. Khashoggi was a billionaire dealing with arms and was considered one of the richest men on the planet.

The cattle ranching and the beef industry overall, over time, became hard to break even. The elephant population increased and moved into the ranch. Previously the ranch was their transit area from the north to Aberdares and Mount Kenya. With the increased population, they began to take permanent residence on the farm, eventually affecting beef farming. This resulted in the rise of the maintenance cost, making it unprofitable eventually. 

The wildlife populations in the surrounding areas were declining. The ranch came in as a savior to salvage the wildlife and make fair use of the land. The emphasis on wildlife conservation increased because of these activities—the Sweetwaters Game Reserve, which was 24,000 acres (9,700 hectares), was officially opened in 1988. Lonrho Africa, one of the previous owners of the Ol Pejeta, was responsible for its opening. The reserve was first opened as a sanctuary for the rare and endangered black rhino. Still, other wildlife, including the big five, have been steadily filling the reserve.

Fauna and Flora International, a conservation firm based in the UK, purchased the ranch together with its surrounding areas in 2004. They received financial support from Arcus Foundation, an international philanthropic company that is private and was started by John Stryker. The land price was $15 million, and the Arcus Foundation’s donation met the entire cost. Arcus Foundation has been working hand in hand with Lewa Conservancy and FFI to access 90,000 acres (360km2) of savannah grassland vast and open to be converted to be a national reserve. In addition to the buying money, the same foundation also added $12 million more to be used as starting capital and to fund the institutional development at the conservancy. This enabled the conservancy to succeed in its business model as a Kenyan-owned business that benefits the communities around it in development matters. The economy around the park has grown over time since its inception.

Wildlife

There is various wildlife found in the conservancy. The big five, which comprises buffalo, lion, elephant, rhino, and leopard, have also made Ol Pejeta Conservancy their home. Both white and black rhinoceros are thriving here. Ol Pejeta Conservancy hit the 100th rhino to be born in the conservancy in 2013. With this achievement, the park became the leading black rhino population on the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group Categorization. It has beaten eight other sanctuaries that are found in Africa.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is also home to some rare game that includes the endangered African wild dog, cheetah, hartebeest, hyena, zebra, oryx, serval cats, the fox with bat-like ears, and antelopes. The more common game is widely found across Africa, such as monkeys, impala, giraffes, zebras, dik-dik, hare, gazelle, eland, jackal, mongoose, hyrax, and many more species are also found here. As for bird watchers, here is a paradise for you because they are over 300 recorded bird species on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

There are no barriers in the conservancy; hence the wild animals have the freedom to move in and out. The Conservancy corridors are constructed in such a way the endangered and rare rhinos’ movement is restricted. This feat was achieved by placing knee-high posts close together across the passage. The structure does not hinder other animals’ activities, such as carnivores, antelopes, and elephants. They can easily maneuver it by either jumping over it or stepping over. However, Rhinos cannot achieve this; hence they are saved from the poachers who hunt them for their precious horns.

Rhinos (Northern white)

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to the only northern white rhino, which is from the family of the five rhino species that are still in existence today. The northern white rhino is close relative and it is looking like its southern white cousin, the reason for the endangerment of the northern white rhinos is poaching. In the 1980s and early 90s poaching was rampant because of its prized horns; this horrific act left the species at the brink of extinction and making it extinct in the wild altogether. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is now home to four of the seven rhinos left in confinement and it achieved this status on 20th December 2009. This was after four rhinos (two females and two males) were transferred from the Czech Republic, because Ol Pejeta Conservancy presented an environment which was conducive for breeding.

The names of the females are Najin and Fatu, and the males Suni and Sudan. They are under 24-hour armed security surveillance, in an area with an expand of 700 acres. in 2012 Suni was observed mating with Najin, however the test that was done confirmed that she was not pregnant. This is the main challenge in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, to cross-breed the southern white rhinos that are closely relating to the northern rhinos. It has to be done in order to preserve the northern white rhino genetics in cross offspring. It was a sad day at the Conservancy on October 17th 2014 when Suni died of unknown cause that are not related to poaching. The conservancy was hit again on March 19th 2018 when Sudan had to be euthanized because of the age-related complications which was making him under a lot of suffering.

Poaching and security

The witnessed mass depletion of elephants and rhino populations all over Africa is because of loss of habitat and poaching. On the IUCN list the African elephants are labeled as “Vulnerable” and the northern white rhino labeled as “Near Vulnerable” and the black African rhino labeled as “Critically Endangered”. Asia provided the market for the rhino horns because a lot of people from Asia believes that the Rhino horn has medicinal properties. The dagger makers in Yemen used it as the handles of traditional daggers. The daggers were being traded at US$ 65,000-105,000 as of January 2014. The market price of ivory being at around US$ 2,500 per one kilogram. An adult elephant has a tusk the weighs up to 50 kg, potential making lots of profits for traders and poachers.

The trade involving the ivory and rhino horns has become so lucrative that the poachers goes to the extent of acquiring deadly automatic weapons to hunt down the rhinos and elephants. They also equip themselves with night-vision lenses and silencers so that they can carry out their activities in the night without being likely to be detected. So, the protection of these endangered species from these high-tech techniques has proved to be expensive. The cost of protecting the wildlife in Ol Pejeta Conservancy has soared because of the presence of black rhino. The current cost of securing the conservancy per square kilometers is US$17,400 or US$70 per acer. The conservancy is equipped with various security and anti-poaching apparatus.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary (Sweetwater)

The chimpanzee Sanctuary is part of the conservancy and it is the only location in East Africa where the endangered and considerably intelligent species of chimps can be found.

It was in 1993 when the sanctuary was opened after an agreement between the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), the Jane Goodall Institute, and Ol Pejeta Conservancy went through. At the beginning the facility was established to provide care and refuge that could last lifelong to abused chimps and those who are orphaned from all over west and central Africa. When the sanctuary was at its initial stages it had only 3 chimpanzees who were orphaned that had been brought from Bujumbura, Burundi. They were evacuated from Burundi because of the civil war that was going on there. In the following years, a number of chimpanzees were brought to the sanctuary; in 1995 nine adult chimpanzees were brought in and in 1996 another ten. Over the last ten years the sanctuary has been forced to keep accepting chimpanzees that are rescued from horrifying and traumatic conditions. At the moment Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary has around 43 chimpanzees. 

At the sanctuary the ailing chimps are brought slowly back to health and take the advantage of enjoying rest in the safe confinements if the huge enclosure. In the conservancy the chimps are divided in to two groups by River Ewaso Nyiro. The sanctuary is listed as a chartered member of PASA (the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance). This alliance has members from 12 countries and 18 listed sanctuaries. Together they serve about over 800 confiscated or orphaned chimps. The role of the alliance is to help in conservation of the habitat of chimpanzees and other primates through lobbying for goodwill and public education.

Conservation

One of the main missions of the conservancy is to conserve the endangered wildlife in their natural environment as pristine as possible. EMD (the Ecological Monitoring Department) of the conservancy has different aims which includes the monitoring and identification of various ways of keeping the endangered species out of the harm way. They monitor the early key indicators that acts as early warnings. Whenever a certain threshold is passed the party concerned with the management of the conservation applies the required intervention. The conservancy in partnership with KWS has developed a plan which will aid in managing specific species.

How to get there

Ol Pejeta can be accessed by air and road

By road.

Rongai gate which is located to the east of the conservancy is the main gate for the visitors visiting Ol Pejeta, it is located at the end of the road that connects Tanuki. Serat Gate can also be used by guest and can be accessed using the Rumuruti road.

It takes approximately 4 hours to drive from Nairobi to the conservancy. The highway from Nairobi to Ol Pejeta is in good condition and tarmacked, however the last stretch which from the town to the conservancy is dirt and it is 13 kms long. If connecting from Naivasha or Nakuru it is best to use the road that passes through Nyeri and Nyahururu to enter the conservancy. The entire route has signage that guides you all the way to the Rongai gate. The 4×4 vehicle are best suited for the rainy season. It is important to note that road that passes through the north and west of the conservancy is only accessible when using a large 4×4.

By air

Nanyuki airstrip has daily schedules flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. From the airstrip, it takes only about 45 minutes to arrive at the conservancy. The main airlines operating the airstrip are the Safarilink and Air Kenya. Airport transfer can be arranged from the accommodation providers. The Ol Pejeta airstrip is currently only open to chartered flights.

Accommodation

Accommodation in the conservancy brings a wide range of experiences starting from the wild camping by the beautiful river to the reminiscence of the good old time in the old colonial ranch house. The conservancy has nine accommodation choices which surely fits everyone’s taste and budget. There is a close relationship between the operators in the tourism industry and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to make sure their tourism is economical and brings benefits to the wildlife and the locals.

Camping

Camping- the experience that awaits in the African nights at the bush is beyond any wild imagination, this is one of the few opportunities to get firsthand experience rare nature. At the conservancy there are five campsites that are strategically placed and each offering something unique. You will experience wonderful sundowners around the campfire as you enjoy the distinct wildlife sounds around you. The beautiful chorus from the birds in the morning will wake you to another world of raw experiences. The package that is included when a site is rented is private use of the campsite, water storage, firewood and toilets.

The campsites are Ol Lerai, Hippo Hide, Mbogo Campsite, Ewaso, and Murera Donga.Ol Lerai Campsite- It is located near the riverbank and it is a haven for the bird watchers because hordes of birds reside there and also a number of mammals. The avid anglers will relish their thirst for variety of fish that are found at the campsite’s secret island and there are tranquil spots best for fishing. If with family or friends, the campsite provides the best place to enjoy cold drinks and relax amid the beautiful unique Kenyan Safari and adventure. The frequent visitors to the riverbanks are the elephants, whose sights can be enjoyed from the safety and comfort of your tent.

Hippo Hide Campsite-   The campsite is located at the banks of the huge River Ewaso Nyiro. Ewaso Nyiro is the third longest river in Kenya. The river starts from Laikipia and goes through the northern Kenya all the way to Somalia. At the banks there are wide variety of mammals and avian species. The campsite is located strategically near the Hippo Hide walkway, a wonderful nature trail that offers the guests the opportunity to see hippopotamuses up close walking in the shallow waters right below.  

 Mbogo Campsite- The word ‘Mbogo’ is a Kiswahili word for a buffalo. It is located on a hill, giving a wonderful setting that will enable you enjoy the best of the vast wilderness of the conservancy. The campsites overlook the marsh patch which is lush green with the rippling plains as its backdrop. The scene here is perfect for those seeking breath taking sundowners and erudition in the wild. The night is graced by glowing campfires, making Mbogo Campsite one of the much sought-after campsite in the conservancy. The location of the campsite is to the East of the conservancy, and all the guest that visits the campsite usually leave the area with rejuvenated and peaceful souls. The campsites offer the following facilities when rented; toilets, full private use of the campsite, water and firewood.

Ewaso Campsite- This campsite located strategically behind bushy area and acacia forest making it one of the most perfect spots to watch wildlife without disrupting their activities. The campsite is located at the banks of river Ewaso Nyiro as the name suggests. The river is the third longest in Kenya, that passes through northern Kenya and empties it water to Somalia. The banks of Ewaso Nyiro are home to wide variety of mammals and avian species, and this particular campsite is favorite spot for antelope and elephants.

Murera Donga Campsite- This is a secluded campsite that has acacia forest as its surrounding and it is located in the marsh areas of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The marsh has a lot of aquatic life together with wide variety of bird species, insects, and herbivores such as elephants and the elusive waterbucks. The vegetation found here is lush all year long thus attracting throngs of wildlife.

Other accommodation available in the sanctuary includes The Stables, Ol Pejeta House, Pelican House, Jambo Mutara Tented Camp, Sweetwater Serena Camp, Ol Pejeta bush camp, Ol Pejeta Safari cottages, Kicheche Laikipia Camp, and Porini Rhino Camp.

The stables- The Stables provides basic accommodation facilities that are comfortable. It has full board option which can be under US$55, and lots of food with Kenyan touch throughout the day giving value for your money. There is hot water and fridge at your disposal. The rooms are equipped with basic amenities such as power socket, mosquito net, chair, clothes hangar, and laundry basket. The staff are ready to assist with the laundry for small manageable fee and washing powder is provided for your undergarments.  The laundry days are two in the week, Wednesday and Friday, only washing services offered without ironing. They have strict meal times timetable, breakfast being from 7-8 am, lunch is 1-2 pm, and dinner is 6-7 pm.

Ol Pejeta House- Originally built as home for the billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, the Ol Pejeta House stands gracefully withing the pristine calmness of the conservancy. The Ol Pejeta House is one of the Mount Kenya best kept secret location that is privately owned. If you are looking to reminiscing in history then this is a perfect getaway for you to explore the past tradition hospitality that Kenya’s farmhouse has to offer, the Ol Pejeta House is the ideal location for any vacation. The house located a few clicks from the Sweetwater Tented Camp, and it has privileges of being in a private location and access to various facilities.  The house has two superior guest rooms that bathrooms and huge dressing room, two rooms that are standard and equipped with double bed with also terraces and bathroom, and Buffalo Cottage that has two deluxe rooms and decent fireplace.

Pelican House- It is one of the best spots in Kenya to enjoy downtime with family and friends. The location overlooks the beautiful Pelican Dam. The cottage is sell-catering and accommodates 8 but can be added to 12 on request. Its location is to the east of the conservancy, with easy access of best wild experiences in the conservancy. During the dry season the dam is frequented by wide variety of wild animals thus providing spectacular view. The verandah of the cottagers overlooks the peaceful water making it perfect during breakfast time when the birds are outshining themselves with melodious songs, or that rejuvenating sundowner after a busy and tiring safari during the day. The accommodation in the Pelican House is comfortable and can host up to 8 persons in the main house that is equipped with a double suite in the garden that is separate from the main house. In the main house there are two large double rooms and double bedroom that has different bathroom. There is electricity for eight hours a day which is supplied by a generator, free Wi-Fi is also available.

Jambo Mutara Tented Camp- The camp is located in the 20,000-acre conservancy which is located in the land bordering Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Ol Pejeta manages all the operations in the Mutara Conservancy. It is located north of the Aberdare Forest and west of the beautiful My Kenya, it sits on top of the equator making one of the unique locations in the world. Mutara Camp is the only available accommodation in the expansive 20,000-acre Mutara Conservancy and it has only 15 tents. Together with Ol Pejeta Conservancy they formed the largest black rhino sanctuary in the whole of East Africa. With the luxurious and tailor-made canvas tent making it one of the crèmes de la crème of interior finishing which makes one sometimes to forget they are in the tent. The front side of the tent has options that can open folded, allowing enough light to pour in to the tent and the cool afternoon breeze to whizz by. Each tent is equipped with comfortable reading area and king size bed. It has also mini-bar which is fully stocked, and the visitors can enjoy the sundowners and their own private overlooking the open vast African endless wilderness.

Sweetwater Serena Camp- It is located in a sheltered oasis which surrounds a waterhole making the campsite the class of its own. The wildlife around the camp are plentiful, and blends perfectly with the serene surroundings making it one of the top choices for the safari and wilderness lovers in the same measure. The camp was originally built in 1970s, and during that time the camp’s main building was the home of the manager who was overseeing the ranch. The camp has 50 luxury tents with each tent equipped with veranda with magnificent views of the watering hole, and bathroom. The beautiful snow-capped Mt. Kenya stands proudly as the backdrop. Other amenities provided includes the internet connection, mirrors, hairdryers, and coffee makers. 

Ol Pejeta Bush Camp- It is located strategically at the banks of the mighty Ewaso Nyiro River, that is found in Laikipia region, and provides the best Kenyan safari excellence and hospitality. The Ol Pejeta Bush Camp has seven safari tents which are unique to the East Africa safari. The camp provides the best base for exploring the great conservancy. The camp is one of the first choice for any discerning visitor looking a great time and to understand the world-leading conservancy. With the 7 tents that are in the camp, 6 provides either double or twin beds which can accommodate up to 12 guests. The camp has one family tent also, which can accommodate up to 4 visitors, and can be booked purely for a family or any group.

Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages– The safari veterans Andy and Sonja Webb are the brainchild behind these wonderful cottages. It is located inside the tall acacia trees, right in the middle of the conservancy to the south. In the cottages one experiences great silence and peace. The views of the lush river valley to the savannah beyond also makes it one of the must visit location in the conservancy. The accommodation here includes the 2×2 bedroomed cottages and 2×1 cottages.  The cottages come with en-suite bathroom and toilet. There are large fireplaces that uses logs and sofas that are comfy. All the rooms open up to expansive veranda complete with a perfect outdoor setting, with steps that leads to beautifully trimmed lawns where you can enjoy unique African night under the stars besides the campfire. The cottages have also viewing deck for the wildlife that passes nearby. The power supply system to the cottages is environmentally friendly. In every cottage is fully staffed, this includes a private chef, groundskeeper, waiter, house keeper, and a night guard thus providing the visitors a private escape from the daily hustles and bustles.

Kicheche Laikipia Camp- It has a luxurious tented camp that has won eco award, and it is found near the foot of Mt. Kenya. At its base there is an indigenous forest that is in front of a waterhole. The camp has six big tented suites that ensures ultimate bush experience is achieved, and it can accommodate up to a maximum of twelve guests. The atmosphere in which the camp was established is personalized and intimate validating the expected great experiences. The camp has six customed made tents which are luxurious, all the six tents are insect-proof and it has bathrooms that are equipped with hot showers, toilet, and a dresser. The location of the camp, which is at the watering hole makes it perfect spot for viewing the game. There is also family tent which is available and can host up to 4 visitors.

Porini Rhino Camp- It is located in the secluded valley, hidden location from any prying eye. It is nestled among the yellow-barked acacia trees and the seasonal rivers on the conservancy. There is an airstrip which is only 10 mins from the camp, however it serves chartered flights only. Porini Camps has very low carbon footprints and its main focus is conservation and offering lots of benefits to the locals while the guests gets the authentic African safari experience away from all the pollution and crowds. The camp has 7 spacious tents, each furnished with bathrooms that have flushing toilets and showers. The camp is keen on conserving the environment so it does not have generators, its main power is from the solar lighting system. Each tent has its own unique views of the surrounding.

The options at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy are unlimited, and can be enjoyed any time of the year.

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