Saruni Rhino Camp Launches First On-Foot Rhino Tracking Experience By Fiona Sanderson

Elephants (image courtesy of Northern Rangelands Trust)

With Africa’s wild animal populations being decimated, it seems unthinkable that the biggest mammals on earth could disappear. Losing such species as elephants and rhinos from Africa is a slow erosion of humanity, leaving an empty world full of people and nothing living wild. Saruni Rhino Camp has subsequently set up the first on-foot black rhino tracking experience, a vision created by conservationists Ian Craig OBE and Riccardo Orizio.

Craig was awarded his OBE for services to conservation and security to communities in Kenya. Raised in Kenya, he converted his family’s 62,000-acre cattle ranch into a rhino sanctuary at the peak of the elephant and rhino poaching epidemic. The rhino sanctuary flourished at a time when few did, and later, it was re-established as the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Craig’s vision propelled Lewa to great success, and the Conservancy has grown to become a world-renowned catalyst and model for conservation that protects endangered species and promotes the development of neighbouring communities. Through Lewa, Craig began partnering with surrounding local communities to support sustainable land management, conservation and peace efforts. Out of this, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) was born, and today supports 33 community conservancies across northern Kenya. The community conservancies are governed by local people and are transforming the lives and landscapes of northern Kenya. They have reduced elephant poaching by 52% since 2012, and are rehabilitating large areas of degraded land for the benefit of livestock and wildlife. NRT supports Conservancies with fundraising, advice and training working closely with The Kenya Government and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to provide security for both wildlife and people in the region.

Ranger tracking rhino (image courtesy of Digital Crossings)

Craig’s partner in the venture, Riccardo Orizio, is a reporter, author, safari guide and conservationist. Since 2003, he has lived in the Kenyan bush surrounded by wildlife and dramatic landscapes, where he manages the four deluxe safari camps Saruni Mara, Saruni Ocean, Saruni Wild and Saruni Samburu. Employing 90 people, Orizzio provides the communities in which the Saruni Group operates with hundreds of thousands of dollars in income every year. We speak to him about his work….

How would you describe your new partner in the Saruni Rhino Project, Ian Craig?

Well, he is a visionary and an extraordinary man who is shaping not only conservation but also many other things like modern fundraising in Africa and beyond. Not just content inheriting a farm in the White highlands of Kenya, he decided to re-invent his land into a wildlife park and as an example of community-based conservation for everybody around it. Quite extraordinary! He is a typical example and representative of the smallest, but not least one of the most interesting tribes here in Kenya, the white tribe, which is changing the African landscape.

How does the Saruni Community Conservation Project work and why do you believe it will be a success?

The basic principles are that the local community own the land and are employed, and we have a lodge where tourists will pay a conservation fee of $175 which is re-distributed to the community. If we make the owners of the land happy and incentivised, they will be keen to keep out the poachers who inevitably kill the rhinos for the value of their horns. Kenya has 44 million inhabitants and land today is becoming more and more critical. People – including the government – were sceptical at first, but now they understand it and support us. We believe that community-based conservation can protect the landscape and the animals who live there, and it is certainly the way forward for Northern Kenya as the game of conservation is right at the centre of the future of this country.

Why do you think the on-foot rhino tracking experiences will be successful?

Well, the winning element is a mixture of Ian’s conservation knowledge and the Saruni Group’s experience in the luxury travel market. We bring something unique to clients who are looking for something different and not just the usual gold tap, seven star luxury. This isn’t an old fashioned type of safari, but a new type which is doing good to the communities and to the environment and so is compatible with the idea if going “beyond luxury.” We are as competitive as anyone else in terms of the consistency of the service, the quality of the cuisine, the design of the interior decor, and the quality of the vehicles we use. Combining the luxury element with saving the planet is a powerful combination. It’s a perfect partnership, and we represent one of the leading examples of this vision. We hope to give our clients something over and above the usual luxury experience, giving a long-lasting memory which is also bonding particularly if you are with your family. This is a “beyond luxury market experience” which benefits everyone. It demonstrates an important reason why we need protect the wildlife and the community.

Essentially, Saruni Rhino will be offering a unique walking safari experience tracking majestic black rhinos on-foot, accompanied by an expert Saruni guide and a highly-trained Sera Community Conservancy ranger. Along with using traditional Samburu tracking methods, the rangers will be equipped with transmitters that are connected to a microchip inserted in the horns of the 11 rhinos which communicates their GPS whereabouts throughout the spectacular 54,000-hectares fenced sanctuary, which is surrounded by Sera Community Conservancy. This will enable guests to track within metres of the rhinos. The memorable experience will endeavour to educate and encourage the further protection of the species for future generations. Opening in February 2017, the new safari property is located in Sera Community Conservancy, a vast wildlife reserve situated in the spectacular Northern Kenya region, and the first community conservancy in Africa to own and operate a sanctuary dedicated to the conservation of this iconic species. This unique experience marks the return of the endangered black rhinos to the land of the Samburu warriors after an absence of a quarter of a century and marks a historical achievement for conservation in Kenya.

Saruni Rhino will be initially comprised of two stylish ‘‘bandas’’ (open stone cottages) which sleep 4- 6 and a main ‘‘mess’’ cottage just outside the sanctuary. An additional tented camp inside the rhino sanctuary will be added soon.

Guests will be able to dine and relax at their leisure in the camp surroundings which are true to Saruni-style – elegant but simple in a harmonious blend with the natural environment and in celebration of local craftspeople. Nestled amidst the swaying doum palms dotted along a large dry river bed, the cottages have sweeping views of a nearby waterhole which is a popular stop-off for a diverse range of wildlife including the indigenous Samburu Special Five: the endangered Grevy’s zebra, the long necked gerenuk, the reticulated giraffe, Beysa oryx and the Somali ostrich, making it great ‘‘bush TV’’ from the comfort of each cottage’s veranda.

Saruni Rhino is located within driving distance of sister property Saruni Samburu, allowing guests to top or tail their experience in style. Saruni Samburu comprises six luxury eco-chic villas subtly located on the top of a stunning rocky kopje overlooking 200,000 acres of unspoilt wilderness. The property has recently launched a unique experience for Kenya: an elephant-proof, open ground level hide based at a waterhole, where both keen photographers and wildlife enthusiasts can quietly enjoy the animals just metres away.

In addition to Saruni Rhino, the Saruni Group portfolio of properties currently includes:

Saruni Mara – a boutique lodge in the Masai Mara located in exclusive Mara North Conservancy. It has five elegant cottages, one family villa and one private villa with a maximum of 18 guests, making it very intimate and exclusive.

Saruni Wild – a tent-only private camp elegantly and comfortably furnished with all the necessary luxuries of a wild yet classic safari. The camp is located in the heart of the Masai Mara plains, on the border between Lemek Conservancy and Mara North Conservancy.

Saruni Samburu – a lodge |(with six luxury, eco-chic villas) which is open and spacious, heralding spectacular views over Kalama Conservancy and Mount Kenya, considered by some as the most beautiful and innovative lodge in Kenya.

Saruni Ocean – an intimate property offering something totally unique on Kenya’s secluded south coast in magical Msambweni, it has six beautifully designed villas comprising of 14 stunning suites appealing to couples, families, groups and friends.

From $630 (USD) pp per night sharing plus an additional $175 pp conservation fees (which includes the Rhino Tracking Experience). To allow access to the Sera Black Rhino experience, all bookings require a minimum stay of 2 nights at Saruni Rhino and 2 nights at nearby Saruni Samburu. Sera Community Conservancy and Saruni Rhino have two private airstrips that can be used by chartered aircrafts and helicopters. For all other internal flights, the nearest airstrip is Kalama. For more information, go to www.saruni.com. Alternatively, read actress Rula Lenska’s review here.