Ol Pejeta: Kenya’s conservation and community success

Posted on 13 July 2012

Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a non-profit wildlife sanctuary near to the equator and Mount Kenya, has an unusual approach to conservation that caught our eye when we added them as a founding partner of the Open Africa Safari Collection.

The Conservancy have successfully integrated cattle ranching and wildlife management, look after the only four northern white rhino in the wild (and has encouraged them to mate), provide a home for the largest population of black rhino in East Africa, operate the only sanctuary for orphaned and abused chimpanzees in Kenya at the same time as implementing numerous community development programmes. It sounds almost too good to be true!

However, as we found out more from various people involved, we were impressed by the conservation and social upliftment activities at Ol Pejeta. Check out this video, which highlights a number of these initiatives.

The CEO of the Conservancy, Richard Vigne, explains that the decision to combine livestock and wildlife operations was taken in 2005, and through hard work and innovation, the area now supports the highest ratio of game-to-area of any park or reserve in Kenya alongside the largest herd of pure Boran cattle in the world (7,000 head). He says that at Ol Pejeta, “conservation is primarily a social project and not something that should exclude people and human activity. The days of fortress conservation have gone. If we are to make more land available for biodiversity to thrive, then it will have to happen in the presence of humans. That is why the integrated system of farming livestock with wildlife is so important.”

The most recent excitement at Ol Pejeta has been around two of the northern white rhinos, Suni and Najin, who have mated twice between April and June this year. The last northern white rhino breeding was in 2000 when Najin gave birth to a daughter, Fatu, in Ol Pejeta after being transferred from a zoo in the Czech Republic in 2009.

The Conservancy captured the rhinos mating and shared this lovely video.


The northern white rhinoceros is one of the two subspecies of the critically endangered white rhino. A total of seven animals exist in the world, four of which live in the semi-wild environment at Ol Pejeta. Only time will tell if Najin will become pregnant and give birth to the eighth northern white rhino in the world.

One of the camps in the Conservancy, the Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, decided to increase its commitment to conservation and community development and become an Open Africa partner in June 2011. This means that the camp shares revenue from bookings made via the Open Africa Safari Collection website to provide sustainable revenue for Open Africa projects.

Open Africa is a social enterprise with a 17-year track record of socio-economic development under the patronage of Nelson Mandela. The vision of the organisation is to use tourism as an economic platform to create and sustain jobs for rural communities in Africa by developing and marketing self-drive travel destinations in Southern Africa.

Currently 60 routes have been developed in six countries in Africa, with 2,626 participating businesses which employ 30,640 people, each potentially influencing a further five family members. 80% of the results to date have been in South Africa where two-thirds of the beneficiaries are previously disadvantaged and there is much potential to develop routes in Kenya.

Alex and Diana Hunter, Ol Pejeta Bush camp owners and managers, support local employment and the team that looks after guests staying in the six traditional safari tents includes 25 Kenyans. The most recent staff development programme was a guide training course, which even the chef completed. Other training includes first aid, health – including HIV awareness – and adult education classes. They believe that education is one of the most important community needs and fully support the Ol Pejeta involvement in the local Sweetwaters Secondary school.

Alex and Diana are also very proud of the integrated wildlife and cattle management approach at the Conservancy. “We have all seen that cattle and wildlife can exist together despite a very strong cultural belief that all lions and predators are bad.”

We hope to that the success stories continue at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

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