Nine and half hours later, through the traffic of Nairobi, the famed Rift Valley Scenery and the numerous farms and country side, and exactly 498km from our Nairobi Office, Stephen Waruingi our driver pulls over next to the Ruma National Park gate. “This will definitely be a unique and special week for all of us”, Mr. John Wambua, the Kenya Wildlife Service Warden in-charge of the 120sq km park, remarks as he warmly welcomes our team. Being our first visit after several years, we go through the basic introductions and soon we are down to real business. According to Mr. Wambua “the entire world needs to know and appreciate Ruma, a truly unique and still virgin land”. I can’t help noticing the hospitality accorded to us by Mr. Daniel Rono the head of Security and Madam Grace Wendot the Deputy Warden of the Park in charge of Tourism and community. Just like Mr. Wambua and indeed the rest of the team here, the handshakes are genuine, so are the smiles, and of course the cup of tea!
For starters, we are in the ONLY habitat for the very threatened Roan Antelope in Kenya and indeed one of the rarest of Africa’s antelopes. The Roan Antelope is ruthlessly hunted both for its meat and for its horn which is valued as a musical instrument! We are very close to the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest inland lake. According to Mr. Kanyi, the Park Scientist, this is truly a unique park with close to 200 Rothschild giraffes, the biggest concentration of the subspecies in Kenya.
On the second day we were ready for the outreach programme. After about half an hour of planning and fine tuning of the two week programme, Warden Grace leads us to Kamato Primary school where we are welcomed by loud cheers and a clearly excited group of school children. In any rural setup here in Kenya, kids will always be fascinated by visitors, particularly those who come loaded with a complete Cinema Unit! Our team never disappoints, we always have our generator, cables and the entire package in good working condition! It is always amazing to see the smiles in these innocent children’s faces whose future sadly continues to be compromised by the poaching activities and other environmental issues. Soon our lecture begins “Wildlife is our most precious heritage, we need to appreciate and love this fact” we begin as we dive into convincing our audience that poverty levels in sections of the country will increase if Kenya’s wildlife population continues to decline. As we move on to the next destination we are sure of many new supporters.
In this trip we are making use of one of Africa Film Foundation’s new films “Endangered Heritage” which, just like our film ‘Mizoga’, helps educate the masses on the importance of conservation. With images of snared and trapped animals, our team is able to explain the grim reality of what continues to threaten the wildlife of this country.
During one of our outreach missions we made our presentation to young scouts drawn from 30 schools within the Homa Bay County. The 1,200 scout members through their commissioner promised to support our efforts. It is encouraging to listen to the many initiatives the young boys and girls continue to put in place under the guidance of their teachers to safeguard the environment.
Having reached out to about 4,700 children and hundreds of parents and village elders, we shift gears to the anti-poaching efforts. With our ever-committed volunteers from Wildlife Clubs of Kenya; Simon, Andrew and Julia and under the leadership and guidance of Kenya Wildlife Service Wardens and rangers and a community rep, we hit the bush. Here camouflage gets its true meaning; poachers can spot our team from miles up the hills meaning we had to be even more careful than usual.
In addition, with a high presence of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous in the park, our team patrols are extremely cautious. Any slight movement in the shoulder-high grass is investigated! Occasionally the team stops after the sporadic light moment of a volunteer jumping after mistaking a log for a snake. The occasional lone buffalo is also avoided at all cost!
The presence of snares and other poaching activities in the Park is currently low. According to the Warden in-charge of Security in the Park, Mr. Daniel Rono, the poachers have retreated after vigorous patrols and arrest. Clearly the efforts of the ever dedicated team of KWS rangers (along with our own efforts) appears to have given a serious warning to the poachers; the results are obvious! In total we retrieved just six snares within the park.
As we bring our tents down, we are already thinking about our next assignment. Soon it will be time to get back to Machakos, hoping to get better results this time (less or no poaching)! Stay tuned for more exciting field updates from Machakos!