Day Seven in Kenya
A bit more of a leisurely pace this morning, up for breakfast at 8am, most other days have been an early start.
From the Big Life Foundation Base were taken to a small traditional village, only about five minutes away. The village was made up of a series of small mud huts that were enclosed, by a fence made of thorny bushes. The livestock who are grazed all day away from the village are brought back inside the fenced area at night for protection. People and the livestock share the same space.
The people of the village welcomed us at the entrance of the village with traditional dancing and song. Everyone was dressed in splendidly colourful clothes and beaded jewelry. They danced and sang for quite some time and then selected people from our group to join in their dance. This was quite amusing because Tristan Cole was selected and he can’t dance! There was a bit a laughing from our team and appreciation from the villages. As more and more people were selected, there was a general movement away by the rangers! In the end, we all joined together to dance and to enter the village.
After the dancing and singing, we talked with the villagers sharing knowledge and stories between two traditional people groups, who are separated by thousands of kilometers, yet still, find some aspects of commonality.
We were able to buy beaded gifts in the village. The money from the sales goes straight to the people. Many of us brought beautiful gifts and we made them happy with all our purchases. The difficulty with buying things in Kenya is that bartering is required. This was extremely difficult for all of us. Afterwards, we left the village and went back to Big Life Base.
We had time back at the base for the Rangers to present to each other and to the Masai elders. The Masai elders cannot quite believe that rangers in Australia actually hunt wildlife to eat as Masai only eat the animals they herd (goats, sheep, cows).
The evening saw us heading out to the savanna near the foot of the Chyulu Hills. Dan Sultan played and the Masai sang and danced as the sun went down. The sounds of livestock bells floated up the valley and zebra, wildebeest, goats and cows grazed in the distance.
The Indigenous rangers took this opportunity to thank the Big Life Foundation for hosting us, allowing us to interact with their rangers and visit their country.
The final dinner was three sheep cooked traditional Masai BBQ style. Martu rangers enjoyed the prized portion of one sheep, as it needs to be offered to the elders. Since we had Muuki in our group we all four of us got to enjoy it.
Day Eight in Kenya
We said goodbye to our new friends at the Big Life Base, as we headed for Nairobi. We will all take very fond memories with us that will last forever.
Leaving the peace of the country we battled the traffic of Nairobi, it is insane! Today we witnessed a hiace van purposely run off the road by two other cars - he obviously did something wrong. Muuki was the closest to it as he was in the front of our car and he remarked: "the drivers here are crazy!".
We made it to the Wildebeest Lodge safely and everyone was relieved to be back to a familiar place. We all enjoyed a delicious beef burger - we had been craving beef after eating mostly vegetables with some goat/sheep at times.
In the afternoon we headed off to the elephant orphanage where 32 baby elephants, one giraffe and one blind rhino are cared for by a team of dedicated keepers. The keepers stay with the elephants 24 hours a day, feeding them milk every three hours.
We were lucky to have a private viewing of the elephant feeding, it was incredible. The elephants came walking out of the bush, in five groups. At first walking, then running to get to the milk. It was a little intimidating to see elephants running towards you, even if they are babies, they are still big.
After feeding we were able to interact with the elephants, which was unbelievable. We even managed to convince Muuki that it was OK to pat one, which he then did. He had the biggest smile ever, along with us all.
The elephants are eventually reintroduced to a reserve, however, most never make it back to the true wild as they have had interaction with humans for up to six years.
Contacting people at home today was great as we have been missing everyone so much, even though we are having such an amazing time here.
Day Nine in Kenya
We packed up our tents for the last time this morning. It was a little sad to say goodbye to the tents! They are going to a new home, with the rangers at Big Life to utilise on patrols. Most of us have moved into safari tents, with eight beds, however Muuki has moved into a deluxe room with his own bathroom, he is being treated well here.
Off to Nairobi National Park this morning, we entered the park and stopped at the ranger memorial to pay our respects to the rangers who have lost their lives while working. Around the world, a ranger dies every three days protecting the environment.
Nairobi National Park is adjacent to the city - the only place in the world that this is the case. You drive down the main highway and on one side you have the city right up to the highway and on the other you have national park with various wild animals including lions, rhinos, zebras, impalas, buffaloes, warthogs and leopards. The Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers there were telling us a story about when a lion walked into the city. We thought they were joking but they were serious. They were able to usher it back into the park, which is amazing.
We drove around the park with KWS rangers and saw so many animals, including white rhino’s and a baby about 50m from the car and a couple of lions. We stopped a place where the Kenyan government has burnt ivory to try and stop poaching. They have destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth.
We spent time with the KWS rangers one on one and they cannot believe how different our work is. They protect their animals from poachers and we hunt our wildlife for food. They have so many questions it is difficult to have time to answer them all but we are giving it a good go.
Day Ten in Kenya
Up at 5am this morning to join the KWS rangers on a foot patrol in Nairobi National Park. You may be thinking we are crazy, a foot patrol in a national park with lions, rhinos and buffaloes! Well we have experienced so many things since we have been here we are feeling that this is just a normal day. The Rangers here are extremely competent and true professionals. They know their jobs and their animals.
We met the KWS teams and headed off in three groups to patrol on foot, collectively we observe eight black rhinos (two with babies), two white rhinos with a baby, many buffaloes, zebras, impalas and warthogs.
Being within 150m of a black rhino is an exhilarating experience, when on foot. Lucky we were down wind as rhino’s have extremely bad vision and rely on smell to alert them to danger.
After our patrol finished tea was served and we enjoyed a cup of tea with the KWS rangers. We talked about the ranger work and tried to help the KWS rangers to get a handle on what we do in our country.
It is our last full day here in Kenya, so we spent the afternoon doing some shopping for gifts, and again having to barter, which is so difficult, but we are getting better at it!
We are looking forward to travelling home soon but will miss all of our new friends. It has been an absolutely incredible experience and we would like to thank Sean Wilmore from the Thin Green Line Foundation for organising this opportunity and inviting us along. Thank you also to Dan Sultan.
Please check out the amazing work of the Thin Green Line Foundation
ABOUT THE EXCHANGE
The Indigenous Ranger Exchange is a world-first conservation and cultural exchange program that takes a select group of Indigenous Australian Rangers on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Kenya, Africa, to connect with Maasai Community Rangers in their tribal homelands.
Through the assistance of The Thin Green Line Foundation, this exchange provides an opportunity for Indigenous Rangers to travel to Kenya and share knowledge, culture and in-the-field experiences with their Maasai colleagues. The overall objective of the journey is to develop and exchange conservation solutions for Australian park Rangers to effectively protect endangered species and their surrounding ecosystems.
Joining the group will be celebrated Indigenous Australian performer, Dan Sultan, who will help facilitate the musical components of the journey and will perform for the group throughout the experience.
The exchange will be based from Nairobi, led by TTGLF founder, Sean Willmore, with support from local NGO partner, Big Life Foundation. Founded in 2010, Big Life was the first organisation in East Africa to establish coordinated cross-border anti-poaching operations. Big Life works in approved community conservation zones that engage local communities and employs over 300 community rangers.
Participating organisations: The Thin Green Line Foundation, Big Life Foundation, Kimberley Land Council (KLC), Martu – Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) and Jawoyn rangers