Ol Pejeta Conservancy – one of the most important places on earth.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy was only an hour away from the Farm. This is where there last remaining two Northern White Rhinos on earth are situated. Katie, our daughter, talks about these two rhinos, Najin and Fatu, on her safari talks at the park in San Diego, so I wanted to go and see them and give her some feedback.
We had secured a driver who had been recommended by one of the guests and Geoff turned up at 6am with his safari jeep, loaded our picnic and we set off for another day of wild adventure! This jeep had windows and solid sides, unlike the one we used for Samburu, so we were spared the chilly mountain wind as we hurtled down the one main tarmac road towards Nanyuki. At the town we turned off along a dirt track and after another 20 minutes of bone-shaking, dust swirling driving we arrived at the gate. I had booked and paid on-line but we had to pay a little extra as the jeep could actually carry more than 6 people, even though there was only two of us. Bathrooms utilized, fees paid and receipts handed to us, which we were told firmly to hang on to, we headed out into the unknown.
The day dawned gloomy, the sun finding it hard to break through the low cloud and a fine drizzle persisted as we drove slowly through the brush along well trodden tracks. The roof of the jeep was raised high so that we could stand up and look out, but the roof remained above us so we didn’t get too wet. Nevertheless, we sat down for the first few minutes, and peered out the windows looking for signs of wildlife! I was reminded of the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ at this point…driving along a track peering through the large windows trying to spot dinosaurs. We stopped several times to see if we could hear or see anything through the deep brush, and I almost turned around expecting to see that T-Rex with it’s little claws and large mouth with sharp teeth, running towards us, with puddles rippling with the thundering footsteps!
Our first sighting was of Gazelles, both Thompson and Grants. These delicate creatures stood statuesquely, with their distinct stripes and long pointed horns elegantly tapering towards their rears, where twitchy little tails wagged, showing us that we had been spotted. As we drove closer they all leapt into the air and skipped their way across the grass, looking back at us with large dewy eyes. Next we saw the stately Crown Cranes with their mohawk crest and beautiful colored feathers. There was a lot of birdlife and we were lucky to see a huge eagle sitting in the tree above where buffalo were grazing in the swamp. It must have been at least 4 feet from head to tail and when we looked through the binoculars, his feathers were a lovely beige and white mix, with his head turning almost 360 degrees to look at us. He was almost owl-like with large eyes, and hooked beak, although his face was angular and not round. He was making a squeaky sound and I mentioned that it was such a small noise for a large bird. Geoff advised that he was mimicking the sound of chicks in the hope of luring a mother bird, with food, towards him instead of her babies. We also saw, Sacred Egret balancing precariously in the trees Ibis pecking in the mud along the river along with Spoonbills. We spotted Guinea Fowl running through the brush and Kori Bustards – the heaviest flying bird in Africa. And then there was the very upstanding, efficient looking Secretary birds. These birds strutted along the ground, standing about four foot high, with very long crane-like legs that looked like they were sporting knee length pants, and straight black feathers sticking out behind them like they were wearing tail coats, totally overdressed for the savannah. They looked quite comical as they strutted about the brush, searching for snakes to stamp on and eat!
An hour in and we had not seen any ‘large’ animals and we were worried the rain, which had now stopped, had deterred the animals from emerging from the dense undergrowth. Then, just as we rounded a corner we saw a very large elephant, pulling at the trees and bushes, foraging for his breakfast. His tusks were long and he used his trunk with such dexterity to pull the choicest leaves from the trees. Further on we came upon a herd of Zebra at their watering hole and watched as two large rhinos lumbered towards us. They obviously had come for their morning drink and delicately stepped into the muddy pool and slurped away, oblivious to everything and everyone around them. This was Southern White Rhino, the endangered Northern White Rhinos having their own enclosure which we would visit later in the day.
We saw herds of Impalas, Oryx and Eland, the Elands being very large indeed, and we came across Kongoni, another type of antelope. And then we drove through a very large herd of Buffalo. They were slow, stopped and looked at us under their heavy ‘eyebrow’ horns and moved on when they were ready. The herd must have been at least 200 in number, made up of old bulls, young bulls, females and their calves, all moving as one, not quite sure where they were going, but I guessed it would be down to the river to drink.
Ol Pejeta is over 140 square miles, so much of the wildlife is spread out and the game drive can last all day looking for the ‘Big Five’. It was once owned by Adnan Khashoggi an arms dealer and billionaire who was a relative (uncle, brother or cousin) of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he sold out and with donations by the Arcus Foundation and Fauna and Flora International, it is now a Kenyan-based operation, and is the largest Black Rhino sanctuary in East Africa. There are several lodges on the conservancy where properties can be bought or rented, which helps with income and awareness, and where we would later rent a house.
As we traveled over these 90,000 acres we saw giraffe, black rhinos, more elephants and zebras and in the distance, black backed dogs running vast distances to scout out their dinner. As we came towards the river, we found that the Hippo area was wired off and we could go no further…not sure why, but we decided it would not be good to tackle the electric fence. So, we turned around and I wondered when I might get to see Hippos.
We took a tour of the Sweetwater Chimpanzee Sanctuary which had been visited and promoted by Jane Goodall and the keeper explained to us how the chimps were all rescued from trafficking. Six baby chimps had been found at the airport, all locked in a small box together, destined for Saudi Arabia where they were going to be pets for someone. Others had been used for medical testing purposes, but now they were all roaming free within the sanctuary, unable to fend for themselves in the wild. We were limited to how close we could get to them due to COVID, but the chimps obliged us by coming towards the fence and hooting at us for a short while. We then went on a walk to see another troupe who lived across the small river. We could not cross the river, and they used to have boat rides on it so you could see the chimps closer up on the other side. However, they had to stop the boat rides as the chimps would throw large branches at the boats and many people had been injured! We walked through the trees and came to the small river where the keeper hooted and called the chimps to come and see us. As they approached, he knew every single one by name, their ages and how they had been rescued. These lovely animals paraded in front of us, looking at us more intently than we were at them, when suddenly, one of them picked up a large stick and very adeptly threw it at us, the stick landing a couple of feet from us in the water! He then quite proudly sat there and laughed at us, very happy with his welcoming party. Several others came by and they climbed the trees and looked down on us, pretty bored with what they saw. Time to leave…via the gift shop of course, but we were happy to make a purchase and leave a small donation. Tough times right now… for everyone.
Back in the jeep, we came upon more buffalo on the crest of the plain and our guide suggested we stop for lunch. I thought it was a little windy and asked if he could take us down to the water, where it might be a little more sheltered. We trundled off again, now feeling quite hungry, and descended down towards ‘Elephant Dam’. We descended the hill, down a steep rocky road, and there before us sat the most magnificent male lion, right on top and in the middle of the dam. We looked across in the bushes and saw his harem of females, stretched out in their golden glory, sunning themselves, panting in the heat. The male looked directly at us, wondering who these nuisances were disturbing his peaceful morning. We drove towards the water and parked about 25 feet away from the lounging females, staring in awe at this wonderful sight. They were aware of us, but not bothered by us, occasionally looking across towards the jeep, yawning and stretching in the midday sun, and occasionally flitting a fly away with their long tails. Two of them were wearing collars that could be tracked by the rangers, and we were told that this was a pride of about 7 lions, another pride being somewhere else on the conservancy. We were hungry so we started to unpack our picnic of salad and tuna, with fresh bread and fruit. With forks poised and mouths watering we were just about to tuck in when suddenly the male lion stood up and started walking towards us. We put down our plates, picked up the camera and binoculars, tuna salad immediately forgotten, and watched as he walked closer. He turned and looked across to his right and we looked left….and what a sight! A herd of approximately 15 elephants was walking our way. Large males and several matriarchs with tiny calves were making their way to the other side of the watering hole. The lion had seen them coming and had made his way over towards his harem, stopping for a drink on the way. We watched as the elephants walked across the dam at exactly the spot where he had been sitting and then made their way to the other side of the watering hole. The now satiated lion walked past his ladies and found a shady spot under a tree, watching the elephants take their turn at the water.
We watched the elephants drink gallons through their trunks and laughed as the little ones played in the water. It was amazing to see the older ones round up the smaller calves, show them that they had to drink and then make sure they did not wander off, or go too far into the water. Once they had had their fill they moved slightly along the shoreline to the most enormous mud puddle, where they splashed and sploshed, throwing mud on their backs and at each other. Again the elders taking care to mind the little ones, so that they did not fall too far into the deep mud. It was a wonderful sight. We were still hungry so tore our eyes away for a few minutes to serve food and sat and watched both lions and elephants while we ate. What a lunch date!
Time was ticking on and we now made our way to the Northern White Rhino enclosure. We were met by the keeper James Mwenda, who was very knowledgeable, dedicated and who obviously loved these animals, spending most of his days with them. They are desperately trying to impregnate a surrogate with Fatu’s fertilized eggs from the now deceased Sudan, hoping to save the species. To date, they have not been successful, but we were told another implant is due to take place in March 2021. You can read more about this amazing place at www.olpejetaconservancy.org. We completed waiver forms, listened to the background of how Najin and Fatu came to be at Ol Pejeta and then were driven into the private 700 acre enclosure to find the two rhinos. After a short drive, we found them plus another southern rhino, who kept them company, and when they saw their keeper they came running! These are amazing animals, so large, so cumbersome but yet so gentle. From the jeep, we fed carrots to them through their wide, soft mouths and stroked their rough, tough skin. It felt like an asphalt roof, coarse and dry and very thick. Mwenda showed me where Nijan liked to be stroked, basically under her armpit! Who’d have thought…here the skin was softer and thinner and she came so close to the jeep with her large body and rubbed up against the side. Mwanda told her to stop, apparently her rough skin could scrape off paint, and the jeep was rocking slightly! Fatu also liked her carrots, but was more interested in drinking her water. The keeper was very comfortable around them, but also very respectful, and it was easy to see the close relationship between them. Our time with them was brief and, all too soon, it was time to move on and leave them in peace. We felt very blessed to have seen these beautiful creatures and will be following along with their progress in the months to come.
We drove a little further, spotting more buffalos and a feisty black rhino but it was getting late and time to make our way back to the farm. We stopped off at the rhino cemetery, where we saw the graves of the rhinos who had died on the conservancy, either from natural causes or from poaching. It is hard to believe that anyone could harm these animals, and in recent years they have been successful in stemming the wave of poaching and now are educating the younger generations on the country’s important role in conserving these animals. A final stop at the equator sign for a photo op and we were on our way home. Another day upon which to reflect…..
We visited Ol Pejeta again as we were rented a house next to the conservancy. Again, it was an amazing experience. No lions this time, but we saw two amorous rhinos trying to mate….quite a complex maneuver considering their size and the shape of things! We also saw our first ostrich and a lovely mamma giraffe with her suckling baby! I think I could visit every day and not get bored with seeing these animals. Still no hippos though……
Click on Photo Below to be taken to a Larger Gallery.