With the precipitous decline of black rhinos across Africa in the 1970s, government wildlife agencies and conservation organizations increasingly turned to private landowners, non-profit organizations and indigenous communities to protect the few remaining animals. In Kenya, the number of black rhinos dropped from an estimated 20,000 to fewer than 300 animals, and the only way to prevent their complete extinction was to create high security sanctuaries.
In 1983, David and Delia Craig set aside 5,000 acres of their ranch as the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary; Anna Merz, a conservationist and philanthropist, threw in her savings; and together they recruited game-trackers, bush pilots, veterinarians and others to round-up and protect Kenya’s rhinos. For the next few years, they tracked, captured and relocated every remaining wild rhino in northern Kenya to the refuge for breeding and safekeeping. The programme was so successful that within a decade more space was needed, leading the Craigs to dedicate their entire ranch to conservation and form the non-profit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 1995.
Today, Lewa employs more than 300 people and encompasses 40,000 acres now owned by the Conservancy, an additional 8,000 acres owned by others and 14,000 acres of national forest. The reserve supports over 400 species of birds and more than 70 different mammals. Its rhino population has grown steadily, not only restoring local numbers but enabling black rhino reintroduction in regions where they long had been absent. Lewa is also a founding member of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre reserve that protects the largest single population of black rhinos in Kenya and the Northern Rangelands Trust,an umbrella organization that supports community conservation in northern Kenya.
Mzee David Craig, 1924-2009
On August 6th, at the age of 84, Mzee David Craig died peacefully in Nanyuki Cottage Hospital with his family by his side.
There are few people on this earth who will leave such a lasting legacy. Here on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, all of us are acutely aware of the critical role he played in transforming Lewa into what it has become, the leading model for wildlife conservation on private land in eastern Africa.
Mzee’s role in that transformation is all too often underplayed. Of all those with responsibility for land in this part of Africa, he recognised, far more than most, that the future of our wildlife and wild lands depends on commitment to both conservation, and the direct benefits conservation can and does generate for communities.
When remembering David, Anna Merz, who cofounded the Conservancy with David and his family, said “I miss David terribly. I had tremendous respect and liking for him. He was a very special person, very strong morally and hugely compassionate, and with a great breadth of intellect. David always understood, from the beginning that we would need to create a periphery of wealth around Lewa if it was going to work. He spoke of community
conservation way before others did and he spoke of bringing rhinos back to the north of Kenya one day. Everything that is happening now was already in his head in 1982. He was a true pioneer.”
The Conservancy has been fortunate to have had Mzee as a founding Patron, and is privileged to be responsible for taking forwards all that he began here on Lewa so many years ago.
Rest in peace, Mzee.
ANNA MERZ, 1931-2013
“Many people asked me, 'why rhinos'? Did I particularly like them or have a ‘thing’ about them? The answer was very simple: the rhinos are in Kenya and I was in Kenya, and the rhinos were in terrible trouble." Anna Merz
When Anna moved to Kenya from Ghana in 1976 after her retirement, the plight of the black rhino had become desperate and the species was fast moving towards extinction. In her book, Rhino: At the Brink of Extinction, she explains that she was never going to be ‘comfortable’ with the fact that her generation would single-handedly contribute to the disappearing of such a majestic and ancient animal, and for very flimsy reasons – to carve daggers in Yemen and to make traditional medicine in the Far East. It was then that the idea of forming a rhino sanctuary occurred to her.
This idea came to fruition in 1983 when Anna, along with the Craig family,formed the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary that would later on be established as the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Starting out with just a few rhinos in Ngare Sergoi, Lewa now holds more than 120 rhinos, constituting 11% and 14% of Kenya’s black and white rhino populations respectively. The success of Lewa is a true testament that Anna’s vision and dedication created a greater impact than she had ever hoped for.
On the 4th of April, 2013, Anna passed away at a South African hospital. She was 83 at the time of her death. Lewa’s mama kifaru – Swahili for mother of rhinos as she is fondly remembered – leaves behind a lasting legacy of a conservationist whose love and passion for wildlife has inspired many. She is a champion who found her cause and did all she could to protect the rhinos that she dearly loved. Lewa’s history will forever be intertwined with Anna’s; so will the future of black rhinos in Kenya that she dedicated her life to protect.
Rest in peace Anna.