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Lewa: Looking Ahead to 2010

January 20, 2010

On behalf of everyone at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, we wish you a very happy and prosperous 2010.

Looking back at 2009, it has been an extraordinarily difficult year. The drought was the worst in over 25 years, taking a heavy toll on people, livestock and wildlife. The worldwide economic crisis severely affected tourism revenues, forcing us to tighten our belts. In addition, the massive increase in the value of rhino horn and consequent threat to our rhino population has been a tremendous added burden.

Sadly, on the evening of December 26th, the first poaching incident in the history of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy took place. Just before dark, at around 6:30 pm, five gunshots were reported on the edge of the Ngare Ndare Forest. Two female black rhinos were hit, one died and the other was wounded. The poachers must have given up on the injured rhino in the dark given the immediate response of our teams - so did not succeed in taking any horn. Our rangers heard the shots, and an armed team was on the ground within a matter of minutes. Ian Craig was in the air (with night vision equipment) within half an hour. Nevertheless, further follow-up was prevented by the dark. At dawn the next morning, the two rhino were identified - and the three poachers' tracks followed up (with the tracker dogs) through the Ngare Ndare forest towards the tarmac road - where it appears that they took a vehicle towards Isiolo.

The good news is that our teams responded in a highly professional manner - doing everything possible, including placing road blocks on all likely exit routes. There was simply nothing further that could have been done to prevent the poachers' escape on foot in the dark. The bad news is that this incident reinforces the fact that demand for rhino horn continues to escalate over the world, and that poaching efforts are increasingly well-planned and executed. We have all been aware that our status as the only rhino sanctuary in Kenya not to have suffered a poaching incident to date was simply bound to be undone at some point - it was just a matter of time. We are currently well on the track of the culprits and are happy to say that the wounded rhino is responding well to treatment. This incident emphasizes the need to continually upgrade and strengthen our systems to successfully protect our rhinos.

Looking ahead to 2010, we are starting the year on a much better note. Kenya has been blessed with wonderful rains over the past several weeks. The country as a whole, and especially Lewa, looks quite beautiful. Many of the elephants have been able to migrate north into more lush pastures. Migrations of birds from Europe have flocked in - European Storks in large numbers and Montagues Harriers, to name a few. We had two black rhinos born over the Christmas period, bringing our total up to 65. So we step into 2010 on a good note, with the drought behind us, optimism in the economic world, and a very strong commitment that together we can meet the current challenges and threats. We will keep you updated as the year progresses and look forward to welcoming you back to see this incredible recovery first-hand