Masai men are walking through the Masai Mara reserve, where human-wildlife conflict is also expanding due to population boom, droughts, soil erosion and the direct consequence of climate change.
A herd of African elephants just about to cross the river, a natural border of the Samburu reserve. April is the driest part of the year. Moreover, the conflict between humans and animals is at its worst. "Where do the elephants go to die?" I asked Mike about one of the older ranges. "Over here, with us," he replied. "In the reserve. Here, they feel safe. If they are wounded outside our bounds, then they almost always drag themselves here. Providing they can."
The "Royal Family" roaming in Samburu National Reserve is seen from a small Cessna plane, one of the truly classic old-timers, soaring above one of the most astounding parts of the world. In order to to find this group, our British pilot, Angus Carey Douglas, a member of the "Save the Elephants" NGO, switched on his elephant tracker used by the organization to monitor elephant herd migrations.
The human-wildlife conflict is increasing due to the population boom, droughts, soil erosion, and wholesale wages of climate change. Most of the elephants are killed by the local shepherds fighting the wildlife for pastures and water. Struggling to survive, the locals started crossing the borders of the national reserve. That is how the conflict with the wild was born. The reserve set up two special corridors for the cattle, but the conflict only keeps escalating.
A carcass of a young female elephant. Herders killed it in Samburu National Reserve. The animal was killed by the members of a traditional pastoral community residing on the outskirts of the Samburu National Reserve, very close to the Ewaso Ng'iro river. The unfortunate elephant's crime was to take a stroll across one of the community villages. It may have even been forgiven in less dire times, but not during the driest part of the year. Shot by a gun, the elephant managed to cross the shallow muddy river leaving a dark red trail behind and somehow stumble onto the reserve side of the river.
Lunch-time in Reteti Elephant Sanctuary - animals that had found their second home at Reteti can sense very well when the next meal is coming. In elephant language, they say: "Please feed us now!" The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first haven for orphaned elephants in East Africa. It is managed as a public institution by the local authorities and kept afloat by several foreign sponsors. "All of us here are so glad poaching is on the decline in this part of Kenya," said Dorothy, who has been working at the orphanage since the day it opened five years ago.
"They say there is no war. However, ours is," said Mike Lesil, one of the senior rangers, while driving back from the whole day of training under the command of the three CROW instructors.
The trio of international instructors, who had dedicated their time to the training of the local rangers free of charge, was not of the sort to hide before the scorching sun. Veins in their muscular necks kept bulging as they first demonstrated each new drill by themselves. Patiently and attentively, they went through the checklist. Knife-fighting, opponent neutralization, jumping from a speeding vehicle, martial arts, patrol formations, marksmanship, weapon maintenance, offensive and defensive tactics.
The ranger from the anti-poaching unit with a specially trained tracking dog in Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Rangers are well aware that many of the poachers are merciless professional killers. Well-trained, well-organised and well-armed. So they train hard to be able to confront them on the field.
A team of local and international rangers training in Samburu National Reserve. "We are basically at war. Thus, we train for war. That is why we are indebted to these international instructors for their help," said one of the senior rangers. The CROW organization is organized around its carefully trained roster of volunteers. Currently, 50 rangers-instructors are counted among its ranks. When approached by the national parks or reserves, all they ask for to help them drill their staff is lodgings and help with managing the local logistics.
Rangers in Samburu National Reserve during their training with Conservation Rangers Operating Worldwide. The twenty-two rangers, four of them females, follow up on every word instructors say with utmost dedication. Discipline was high, almost military-like, but the general atmosphere was much more relaxed. Above all, there was none of that forced authority and rote obedience stuff. The only things that counted were skill, experience and inner fervour.
Female rangers in Samburu National Reserve during their training with Conservation Rangers Operating Worldwide (CROW). The rangers of Kenya are these days facing both poachers and increasing fallout from climate change.
Confiscated ivory in front of Kenya Wildlife Service office in Nanyuki. With the corona pandemic wreaking such unprecedented havoc on the local economy, an increase in poaching was only to be expected. The years of clashing with the Somali mercenary militias, who often trade ivory and rhino horns to finance armaments, have put the rangers in good fighting shape. Moreover, the most significant change regarding poaching was introducing zero tolerance with life in prison for captured poachers.
Ranger from the anti-poaching unit during their night patrol in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. In early April 2021, African elephants were once again listed as an endangered species. In many places other than Kenya, the poaching business keeps flourishing. It is organized from the top down, the final buyers mainly from China or Vietnam, where ivory and rhino tusks are still seen as prestigious items.
Hopefully, our plains will stay full of free-roaming wild animals - not like the plain seen here. "Well, we will be keeping watch," said one of the older rangers, Mike Lesil. "For as long as our animal friends keep getting sacrificed to human greed and stupidity, we will be at war. This is our lifelong mission, saving the lives of our friends."