The words of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, have remained with me throughout life. They’re that shoebox of family photographs you dust off and flip through once in a while, to remind yourself of who you are, where you’ve been… The poem hung on the passage wall in my family home. The more I glimpsed the words, read them, pondered them, the more I understood the message, the more their values became mine.
Nowadays, without warning, lines from the poem flit through the spaces we cannot see whenever I happen upon these values in practice in real life. They flap particularly strongly at stories about injustice, but just as fiercely over tales of everyday people doing extraordinary things. Of people like you and me taking it upon themselves to take care of the Earth – people who take Kipling’s line, “…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,” seriously. Conservationists like those working with the Great Plains Conservation’s ol Donyo Lodge.
One of Kenya’s premier wildlife destinations, ol Donyo Lodge rests in 275,000 acres of private wilderness, bordering the Chyulu Hills National Park and with a clear view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Here Africa’s giant elephant bulls roam freely, the haunting calls of leopards interrupt the night and, the stars of this particular story below, the new lion prides stealthily stalk prey.
ol Donyo Lodge supports the NGO, Big Life Foundation, to ensure the protection of the over 2 million hectares of wildlife surrounding the lodge. They donate several hundred thousand dollars to the foundation each year. In turn, Big Life helps to maintain the harmony between the local Maasai people – shareholders of the land under conservation around ol Donyo Lodge – and their conservation efforts at work.
Cattle rearing is an essential part of the Maasai way of life. When their cattle mix with predators in the region, it’s usually the predators, like lions, that are killed in the Maasai people’s attempt to protect their cattle.
To protect lions from the extinction that threatened, Richard Bonham, creator of the Big Life Foundation, realised many years ago that in order to save the wild animals he had to advise the locals about how valuable wildlife is for conservation tourism. Bonham also initiated anti-poaching operations in the area.
The Big Life Foundation continues its work, year after year, meeting “with Triumph and Disaster”, but continuing, fighting still… This tenacity, the will to hold on, is being rewarded as ol Donyo Lodge’s lions appear to be returning to the land that was once close to never seeing them again. Such is the nature of conservation work.
Jeremy Goss of the Big Life Foundation wrote in a conservation update this month:
“In a land of people and livestock, lion conservation is definitely challenging… There’s no politics like lion politics. The biggest males battle it out for the most productive territories, and the affections of the females within them. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the world shakes.
“Last year ol Donyo was excited to share news of the birth of seven lion cubs to two females in one part of the ecosystem. It was another step in the rebuilding of a local lion population that was previously decimated by traditional killings and retaliation for livestock predation. Prides were finally starting to form again, a huge testament to the lion conservation success of the Big Life Livestock Compensation Program, and the work of local partners, Lion Guardians.
“But one night things fell apart for this pride. Two new males arrived in the territory, which they claimed swiftly by kicking out the father of the cubs. The mothers had no option but to flee or have their cubs killed by the newcomers.
For months they were gone, until the trigger of a camera trap not long ago. The two females were back, with five surviving cubs that were now big enough to introduce to the new males. Hopefully the newcomers will now hold this particular territory for years to come, and make their own contribution to the lion population of Amboseli.
“With stability, lion populations can grow rapidly. But to achieve this natural order you need to limit retaliation killing. That is what the Big Life Livestock Compensation Program has done, and there is nothing better than watching the results growing in front of us. We hope to see this pride go from strength to strength and hear their roars on the Kenyan night air for many years to come.”