Hi. I’m Simon Roberts. I’ve been visiting and helping the Ol Lentille Trust in the Laikipia region of Kenya for the last 3 years. The Trust was established 10 years ago as a community project to support education, wildlife conservation and healthcare in a very beautiful but extremely poor part of Kenya. Most people live in small manyattas (thorn-fence compounds with houses made of sticks and mud) with no electricity and for many there is no fresh water supply.
Kenya is not without its well-publicised problems. Laikipia is pretty immune from most of these and the Ol Lentille Trust is trying to make a difference by supporting the neediest and developing a sustainable future for the Masai and Samburu people.
The Trust actively supports healthcare in the area. It recently completed the building of a 24-bed hospital with outpatient wing, a maternity ward and operating theatre. It also operates a mobile health clinic and provides support to local health workers who visit the more remote villages. There are no tarmac roads here so travelling between villages is a challenge.
It has also drilled boreholes and built dams to provide fresh water supplies to schools and villages. None of these come cheaply and take a considerable amount of logistics
The Trust supports twelve schools in the area and currently provide bursaries for nearly 70 children of different ages to provide schooling and college fees for those that cannot afford it.
It has also set up a wildlife conservation area where elephants roam freely as well as a plethora of other wildlife including leopards, gazelles, zebras and greater kudu. The Trust employs 27 Rangers to guard against poachers and manage the conservancy.
All this work is done by working closely with the local Samburu and Masai communities.
Hopefully this will have given you an understanding of why I decided to do a 75 km charity bike ride on behalf of the Trust. I was joined by Vincent a young 19 year old Samburu student that I help out with his school fees.
The Bike Ride: Ol lentille to Nanyuki by bike
Here is an insight into our challenge.
We set off from the camp at 6:30am just as the sun was rising. For once I was grateful of the clouds in the sky so we wouldn’t be cycling in the blazing heat of the sun. Vincent was on the new bike that I brought out and I was on one of the camp bikes.
The start of the journey
My biggest concern was punctures and an hour into the ride I got the first. The culprit was a 2-inch long acacia thorn. It was as long as a toothpick and as sharp as a needle. With the puncture repaired, we set off again.
We passed waving children who came out from their manyattas to wave at the unusual sight of the crazy white man on his bike trailed by a young Samburu on another. We passed all sorts of wildlife including dik diks (a tiny antelope) and gazelles as well as lots of goats being herded by very young children.
The undulating hills of Laikipia
Over the hills and far away
The road was a dirt track full of bumps and loose rocks and there were plenty of ups and down to challenge us. It was a relief to reach the tarmac road for the last few miles. But it was on this last stretch that Vincent learnt the hard way not to use a front brake on its own. He went head first over the handlebars landing on his shoulder. Luckily, he was wearing a cycling helmet, otherwise it could have been much worse. So with a badly bruised shoulder and a few more cuts on his knee we managed to limp the last few miles into Nanyuki
We finally made it
After a rest we decided to take Vincent to the local hospital to get him checked out and their diagnosis was nothing was broken. Being a Sunday there was no X-ray machine operator available to confirm this but gave painkillers to help.
I decided that there was still time and I still had enough energy left to attempt to return to Ol Lentille. This time I was on the new bike so I suddenly found the lighter frame!
It was all going well although there were dark clouds gathering over Mount Kenya and in the direction I was going. Unfortunately, after about 25 Kilometres I got another puncture. I was repairing it as the dark clouds started to unleash lightning bolts. Makesen, who was driving our support vehicle and the wounded Vincent suggested it was time to call it quits.
Storm clouds gathering on my way back
The puncture before the storm. Time to call it quits!
Even with the first drops of falling rain, I was still holding out some hope that it would pass. Finally I gave in and put the bike in the back of the truck and we drove back to Ol Lentille just as the clouds dumped their contents on us. It was rain welcomed by the land and the local communities. And it was good risk management to be sitting in a pickup truck rather than being out in a thunderstorm in the African bush.
So I did ride 100kms and will just have to go back next year to do the route both ways!
Although I have now completed the ride I would welcome any further sponsorship for a very worthwhile cause. A few pounds goes a long way where people don’t even have the basics of electricity and fresh water.
If you would still like to donate towards my bike ride and I would like to thanks all those who have already done so for all your support.
Elephant Calf Rescue
Ol Lentille Conservancy Rangers on routine patrol on October 5 spotted a lone female elephant calf of estimated age 18 months. We searched for her mother but to no avail. Rangers were posted on 24 hour follow-and-observe duty. On October 6 a group of elephant approached the calf, and we thought she had been reunited with her family. Unfortunately the main herd moved off leaving the little one alone again. We informed Kenya Wildlife Service. Elephant calves need their mothers and are not properly weaned until up to 3 years of age.
This morning, October 7, we were phoned by Angela Sheldrick at the Sheldrick Trust Elephant Orphanage to ask us if we would like them to rescue the calf. We agreed with enthusiasm. The Sheldrick Trust does an amazing job with elephant orphans. At 3.10 pm the Sheldrick aircraft arrived at the Lentille airstrip with a team of experts led by Peter. We quickly drove them to the baby, and she was soon captured and calmly subdued.
She was loaded with a mattress on to our pickup truck, whizzed back to the airstrip and gently loaded and wrapped in warm blankets and a special “seat belt” at 4.20 pm. Total operation time 70 minutes!! The aircraft was airborne to Nairobi at 4.45 pm.
We have asked Sheldrick to name her Lentille, and on the phone Angela Sheldrick kindly agreed. All our friends and guests are welcome to visit Lentille at the orphanage between 11-12, or by appointment at 5pm.
Sheldrick Trust Team and Ol Lentille Staff and Rangers, well done! Good job.
A taste of Africa
I have always loved Africa but spending time at Ol Lentille with John and Gill Elias, and their son Tom, is always special as it allows me to get up close and personal with Africa; the beautiful landscape, its wildlife and its people.
To be surrounded by the stunning African bush in every direction with no signs of buildings or civilization and the occasional herd of elephants roaming free is an experience in itself but it’s just as much about its people and the friends I have found there during my far too brief visits.
John and Gill have created an environment that brings together the land, its wildlife and its people in harmony. A collaboration that appears to be ‘win win’ although it’s not without its many challenges. Spending time with them in this environment you get to see the real Africa and not a show put on for the tourists.
It is a country where cultures clash, where the modern world is interwoven with the old world and such contrasts are frequently observed.
Having my photo taken by a Samburu Moran (a young warrior) in his traditional dress with his Nokia Mobile phone is one of the many contrasting images that this part of Africa creates. Where people live in simple huts made of wood, mud and covered in animal skins without lighting, running water or electricity yet everyone has a mobile phone. Where you can be miles from the nearest town, in the middle of the bush and still get a strong mobile phone signal!
I always feel humbled by the people and the levels of poverty that you find yourself immersed in….yet within that poverty there is always a smile for a stranger, their hospitality is generous and no effort is spared to share a cup of tea with visitors in spartan surroundings but rich in its welcome. The Western world could learn a lot from the Samburu people on what is important in life; Family, friends, the clan and their heritage.
We were privileged to be invited along to a Samburu Warrior ceremony that was being held in the middle of the Kipsing plateau far below the slightly cooler highlands of Ol Lentille and miles from the nearest town or village. It was a 3 hour drive along dirt tracks with the last few mile just cutting across the barren scrubland.
“I think our wheel base is too long to get across here,” said Tom moments before we ended up like this:
Our journey, as are many in these parts, was eventful as we had to cross a dry river bed and although Tom suspected the car was too long to get across the river bed as it was the only crossing place we could find we gave it a go only to find ourselves wedged in the ditch. While we all got out and scratched our heads, within minutes, a group of children had spotted us and came along with a long knife and a shovel….so eventually we were able to dig ourselves out and carry on across the plain.
A temporary village was built purely for the ceremony. The reality is that it’s the women (the mothers of the Morani warriors) that build the village from scratch, everything transported here on Donkeys for many miles and with everyone helping each other to build their huts and the boundary fence made up of Acacia trees with their needle like thorns.
We arrived after the cows had been slaughtered as part of the ceremony, this was good timing as we were glad to have missed that part of the ceremony. There were 53 Morani taking part in the ceremony, each killing their own cow (or in one case a camel that reflects his was ‘more well off’ as camels are worth more than cows). The Morani, with the help of elders, butcher the carcasses with their long knives, separating the different parts that will then be divided up. There are no fridges here so everything is left to dry in the hot sun of the African bush and kept off the ground on cut down bushes. The Morani take the best cuts of meat to a separate area where they will cook the meat on open fires for themselves and to share with the other men, the elders then get the next share of meat and eventually the women are allowed to come and take away what is left. It is a male dominated society and this was reflected throughout the ceremony but it couldn’t happen without the hard work of the women in their preparation and support of the Morani throughout.
Tom Elias along with James, Moses, Vincent and another Sambaru Moran in front of Moses’ cow
As we were there with James and Vincent, friends from Ol Lentille who were now Samburu junior elders (as they had their ceremony earlier this year) we were treated as friends and welcomed. We were also here to see Moses one of their friends who was part of the ceremony. Instead of his western clothes that he wears normally he was in his traditional Samburu dress wearing colourful bead necklaces and armbands and with red ochre in his hair.
We were invited to take tea in Moses’ mother’s manyatta (the low roofed hut they live in where even sitting in a chair my head was near to the roof). It was hot enough standing outside in the sun and inside the manyatta with its low ceiling, its black tarpaulin roof and the cooking fire it was even hotter; literally it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. The higher you sat the hotter it was, just like a sauna, and I soon realised that sitting on the ground was the coolest place to sit. We then drank the hot, sweet and milky tea cooked over the open wood fire which gives it a smoked flavour that is not every one’s cup of tea (excuse the pun) but I like it, the milk is stored in large leather gourds and then heated in a saucepan with tea leaves and excessive amounts of sugar before being strained with a tea strainer into enamel camping mugs. It is always one of my favourite experiences.
I felt privileged to experience and be a part of the ceremony that only happens every 15 years and to see such traditions continue. It was a shame we did not stay for the singing and the dancing that would have carried on into the early hours of the morning but for some of us it was time to return to Ol Lentille and our beds whereas for the Morani they had 3 more days of the ceremony and the celebrations and no time to sleep!
This was an experience of the wonders of Africa and its people and a big thank you to the John, Gill and Tom who helped make it happen and Vincent, James and Moses who looked after us throughout the visit to the ceremony.
“The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”
2011 – Kenya lost 289 elephants to poaching
2012 – 384
2013 – first half of year 117
Total estimated population of elephants in kenya – 35,000
Africa was home to millions of elephants until the mid 20th century. The 1980s saw the first major wave of poaching putting numbers down to 600,000. Today Africa’s elephant population is about 472,000
Increase in population and the new resurgence of poaching put elephants at enormous risk.
Kenya’s current wildlife act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of 40,000 Kenyan shillings = 470 dollars and a possible jail term of up to 10 years.
Last month, a Chinese smuggler caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory was fined less than a dollar a piece.
The smuggler, who was arrested carrying 439 pieces of worked ivory while in transit in Nairobi as he travelled from the DRC to Hong Kong, was fined $350 and was then set free.
Such fines pose little if any deterrence with experts suggesting one kg of ivory has an estimated black market value of some $2,500.
The Kenya Wildlife Service is a very serious force taking security of elephants as its number one challenge and the newly proposed Kenyan law to beef up sentences is an important step forward.
Elephants need all the help they can get.