Once upon a time, Lewa was a humble cattle ranch. Today, it is a successful wildlife conservancy at the centre of African rhino conservation with a worldwide reputation as a model for wildlife conservation. The Luxury Channel headed to Kenya to uncover the human story at the heart of this fight to save wildlife, and to see why Prince William chose Lewa as the place to ask Kate Middleton to marry him….
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a 65,000 acre ranch and wildlife sanctuary situated within Kenya’s Lewa Downs. Located north of Mount Kenya, dramatic snow-capped peaks dominate the views to the south, while to the north, the terrain drops away with breath-taking views of Samburu and beyond to the Matthews Range. Lewa is one of Africa’s most beautiful game reserves, and is widely considered to be one of East Africa’s premiere conservation organisations with specific expertise in protected area management and community support. It is also, as it just so happens, where Prince William proposed to the Duchess of Cambridge.
Since the 1920s, Lewa has been home to the Craig family, and whilst a distinct passion for wildlife and conservation had been passed down from one generation to the next, it wasn’t until some 60 years later that a real effort to protect the local rhino population was formalised. By the early 1980s, it was uncertain whether any black rhinos would survive in Kenya. Poaching for horn had reduced Kenya’s rhinos from some 20,000 in the mid-1970s to just a few hundred. It was clear that the only way to prevent their complete extinction was to create high security sanctuaries.
In 1983, David and Delia Craig came up with the concept of creating a rhino sanctuary within 5,000 acres of the ranch. Together with conservationist Anna Merz, who provided the funds for the project, they set up a rhino sanctuary at the western end of Lewa Downs, populated initially with black rhinos, but later with white rhinos as well. The focus, always, was on protecting northern Kenya’s last remaining rhinos, particularly those whose survival in the wild was put at little more than a few months at the most.
Within a decade, the sanctuary had expanded to cover the entire ranch, plus the neighbouring Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve and Borana Conservancy. Today, it is a key location for spotting Africa’s “Big Five” – namely rhinos, lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo. 14% of all Kenya’s rhinos live on the Lewa/Borana landscape, with 14 rhinos born here in 2017 alone.
It’s not just wildlife that benefits from the work of the Conservancy, however. Half of the annual budget is directed to neighbouring communities, positively impacting over 60,000 people. Lewa helps to educate some 10,000 students, brings accessible water and healthcare to over 50,000 people, contributes to the local economy through a women’s micro-credit program serving almost 2,000 women, and also supports sustainable farming programs.
As well as this, Lewa is noted not just for the way in which it uses world-class anti-poaching operations and cutting-edge technology, but also for how it ensures that the local communities are crucially engaged to support the conservation effort. The Conservancy’s renowned dog tracking unit aids the anti-poaching work, with these remarkable animals able to follow the scents which are left at the crime scenes and lead Lewa’s security team directly to the doors of the poachers involved. It’s been an incredibly successful programme – so much so that there have been no poaching incidents for several years at Lewa.
The eastern corner of the Conservancy is the Craig family home, and where tourists have been entertained in luxury for the past 30 years. There is a total of nine different properties to stay in, located across the Lewa/Borana landscape, each with its own offerings – be that adventure, wildlife or culture.
We wanted wildlife and adventure, so we stayed at Lewa Wilderness; “we” being myself and Karen Laurence Rowe, one of the world’s top wildlife artists. Lewa Wilderness offers an array of safari adventures in true style and comfort. The lodge is comprised of just nine exclusive rooms: six cottages tucked into the hillside overlooking Lewa’s Eastern Marania Valley, plus three garden cottages set amidst the beautiful green lawns.
We were up for adventure, and ticking off the Big Five was top of our list. At Lewa Wilderness, game viewing is not just done by vehicle. Activities on offer include guided bush walks, horseback riding, camel riding, and even a scenic flight in an open-cockpit Waco biplane!
Wildlife, including rhinos and elephants, can also be spotted wandering past the dining area, an open-sided room affording some seriously stunning views, where delicious farmhouse meals are served. The ingredients all come directly from Lewa’s organic farm.
Meanwhile, much of the furniture at the lodge is made in a local workshop, which employs and trains a small group of craftspeople to make some truly beautiful pieces, which can be bought by visitors and shipped anywhere in the world. We particularly enjoyed our visit to the spinnery, run by an inspiring group of women who were producing beautiful crafted rugs made from the wool of local sheep, which we later spied being used in the lodge.
From the moment I arrived, I knew that Lewa was special. It has unbelievable soul, and is as much a home as it is a truly unique safari experience, as it is a pioneering wildlife conservancy. Long may its incredible work continue.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
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Please support Lewa Wildlife Conservancy by being part of their Big Give Christmas Challenge. Give a gift through the Big Give page between Tuesday 3rd December (midday) – Tuesday 10th December (midday) and it will be doubled! Lewa needs to raise a minimum of £13,250 online through The Big Give this year – click here to donate. Every penny will be matched to give a grand total of £26,500. These funds will play an essential role in enabling Lewa to protect wildlife and addressing one of the biggest challenges we face – the human/wildlife conflict.