Ol Pejeta conservancy aims to safeguard vulnerable species far beyond black rhino and chimpanzees. Its mission statement says it all: ‘The Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to conserve wildlife, provide a sanctuary for great apes and to generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprises for reinvestment in conservation and communities.’
Ol Pejeta uses innovative conservation techniques, including drones to monitor species populations and smart fencing techniques that allow free movement of migratory wildlife. As the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and the only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees, the conservancy is also safeguarding some of the most vulnerable wildlife in the world, and advocating for change.
Ol Pejeta has been advocating for the plight of chimpanzees and other great apes since 1993 – when it first opened the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The Sanctuary aims to provide a refuge for chimpanzees rescued from the black market, and is the only place in Kenya where these fascinating animals can be seen.
There are 42 rescued chimpanzee at Sweetwaters. Many arrive with horrific injuries sustained from abuse at the hands of humans. At Sweetwaters they are nursed back to health before being introduced into one of the two large groups at the Sanctuary, who live in vast natural enclosures separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River. The chimps have set feeding times, and return to their indoor enclosures at night – but other than that they spend their days exploring, climbing, socialising, and learning to be chimpanzees all over again.
Conservation of endangered species in their natural habitat represents a major part of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s mission. The Ecological Monitoring Department of the conservancy aims to identify and monitor key variables necessary to maintain healthy trends in both habitat and animal species.
Ol Pejeta is home to the last three northern white rhinos on earth and provides sanctuary for over 105 critically endangered black rhino. The Conservancy employs highly trained rhino protection squads, partners with international veterinary experts and ensures data is gathered regularly on each individual animal.
Northern White Rhino
Extinct in the wild, Ol Pejeta is home to the world’s last three surviving northern white rhinos. To keep them safe and in good health, Ol Pejeta has dedicated 24-hour armed security to watch over their 2,8km² enclosure, and ensure they have a nutritious diet supplemented with fresh vegetables.
Southern White Rhino
Ol Pejeta Conservancy introduced over 20 southern whites in 2005. There is actually no colour difference between white and black rhino. The name is said to to be a corruption of the word ‘wide’ – which refers to the white rhino’s square shaped lips used for grazing (black rhino have a hooked lip for browsing). The southern white rhino prefers open grass plains, making them easier to spot on safari.
Ol Pejeta had 20 critically endangered black rhino in 1993. Successful breeding combined with tough anti-poaching operations allowed this number to flourish to 105.
Innovative rhino-proof fencing
The conservancy uses innovative fencing techniques to allow wide-ranging species – like elephant and wild dog – to migrate through Ol Pejeta to neighbouring ranches and conservancies, while at the same time keeping the resident rhino secure. These fences consist of knee-high posts in the ground, situated very close together, that elephant, antelope and carnivores are easily able to jump or step over. Rhinos, however, cannot do this and so they are prevented from moving out to areas where they are in danger of being poached.
Ol Pejeta’s 365km² is grazed by wildlife and livestock, in a partnership that is as beneficial to the grasslands as it is to the animals. Livestock is carefully rotated to manage the grasslands, and in fact helps to fertilise and rejuvenate the grass. Wild ungulates get the benefit of nutritious new short grasses once the managed herds have been moved to fresh areas.
Through business enterprises and with the help of donors the Ol Pejeta Conservancy works to develop the funding necessary to pay for wildlife conservation work, and to provide financial assistance to projects aimed at improving the livelihoods of the people living in neighbouring communities.