Safaricom Marathon: Interview With Geoffrey Chege, Head Of Conservation And Wildlife At Lewa Conservancy

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Lewa Conservancy started off as an extensive cattle ranch taking care of thousands of cattle before the 80’s. Then around 1984, the owners in the conservancy decided to set aside a small area within Lewa and bring in all Rhinos from adjacent areas to set up a highly protected area known as the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary. This was because wildlife all over the country especially Rhinos and Elephants were facing significant poaching threats, and at the same time the Beef market in Kenya wasn’t doing well.

As all roads lead to Lewa for the Safaricom Marathon this June 25, every visitor will be able to appreciate the rich history and successful conservation efforts, which over the years have seen the Lewa Conservancy, grow into an area where wildlife thrives alongside sustainable community development and responsible tourism.

Geoffrey Chege. Image from http://www.laikipia.org/lives-laikipia-geoffrey-chege/

Geoffrey Chege takes care of the Conservation and Wildlife department and is charged with overseeing the three departments of Research and Monitoring, Wildlife Vet and the Conservation Indication Program. He is privileged to have been working as an Intern in Lewa during the very first edition. He is thrilled to see the rapid growth of the event, and the significant funds being raised that have gone into supporting Lewa’s conservation efforts and the livelihood programs in the landscape and beyond, also known as the Kenya Wider Projects. Chege shares with us some interesting facts about Lewa Conservancy and the impact Safaricom Marathon has made.

Why is Lewa considered a conservation hub?

Lewa is actually one of the havens for the protection of very critically endangered species and our wildlife population is very well connected with other areas in Northern Kenya, so Lewa is not isolated; it is very well connected with other areas in the landscape.

We started off with 13 Rhinos which have bred to the current population of more than 60, and at the same time we have moved lots of black and white Rhinos to establish other new suitable and secure habitats. Now we have very good populations of Rhinos; both black and white, Zebra and Elephants all the way from the northern Kenya to Mt. Kenya, which take refuge and congregate here especially during the dry season.

What other kinds of species can be found in Lewa?

Lewa’s abundance of wildlife species is very high. We talk of having more than 70 large mammal species, more than 440 bird species, amphibians, reptiles and insects. We boast in having a very significant population of Grevy’s Zebra, at least 14% of the worlds remaining population of the species, which is very significant when you consider the kind of threats that they face all over the world.

How do you deal with cases of Human-Wildlife conflict?

Human-wildlife conflict issues in Kenya and around the world are so huge, when you come to Lewa we have a wide range of projects and programs that we undertake here in Lewa and also in our neighbourhood to ensure that one we mitigate the aspects of human-wildlife conflict and if they occur, at least the scale is very minimal.

So one of the things that we have done is ensuring the entire Lewa is fenced although we have purposely left built gaps where animals can migrate through. These gaps are found especially in the traditional migratory routes. Number two, we work very closely with our neighbouring communities, so that they are partakers of conservation, when they do not see conservation and wildlife as a threat, then they can own the project that Lewa undertakes within and also without.

So we value our communities, we work together, we don’t isolate them and every time wildlife damages the fences and goes out, communities are always the first ones to call us and say, “Hey, Elephants are here, Lions are here, Hyenas are here, please come and pick them up.” So we collaborate with the communities so that they also own the programs that we have here in Lewa.

How has the growth been since the first Safaricom Marathon held in Lewa?

The Safaricom Marathon has definitely grown in terms of numbers, capacity, funds being raised, and we are able to do what we are meant to do on a daily basis not just because of that event, but also because of the other support we get from all over the world. We have seen significant funds coming over to support our conservation projects, for instance, last year we were able to protect our Rhinos and Grevy’s Zebra, to respond to the wildlife that were in need of interventions through our vet program and to bring from the neighbourhood, up to 99 school groups to enjoy our biodiversity and make the connection between conservation the environment and the livelihood programs.

How has the Safaricom Marathon contributed to your conservation efforts?

The Safaricom Lewa Marathon has been so instrumental in terms of supporting the conservation work here in Lewa and also in the landscape. We have been able to conserve and to protect greatly endangered species; at least 12% of the black Rhino’s that we have in the entire country, 14% of the white Rhino population, and 14% of the global population of Grevy’s Zebra. Also, we have populations of Elephants that fluctuate between 200 and 400 all here in Lewa. So in addition to those species I have mentioned, the abundance of the other species we have in the landscape is too immense, thanks to the Safaricom Lewa Marathon which has been quite instrumental in helping us achieve our conservation goals.

What would you say to encourage the people who aspire and or will attend the Safaricom Marathon in Lewa?

What I would say is that the Marathon we have here is one of the things that you have got to do in your lifetime, over and above your personal fulfilment, that ‘Yes, I did it’, you will help raise much needed funds to support especially the conservation and the livelihood programs such as helping the kids go to school in the right way, unhindered, without being sent back home to go and collect their school fees, construction of classrooms, the significant agricultural projects that we have got in the neighbourhood and so on.

So whether you are in Nairobi or all over the world, the fact that your money went to help a deserving person within the neighbourhood of Lewa is the most critical thing, in addition to taking pride that you participated in the Safaricom Lewa Marathon, you also assisted someone to go to school, and the Lewa wildlife conservancy in protecting our natural heritage.

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