Ol Donyo Lodge is situated in southern Kenya. The lodge is on a 275,000-acre, community-owned group ranch that lies between four renowned parks, Amboseli, Tsavo, Chyulu, and Kilimanjaro. Having built up their reputation over the past two decades, under the leadership of the famed Richard Bonham, the owners of Ol Donyo Wuas built a new lodge that opened in mid-2008. Its ten suites are among the most upmarket in Kenya, some of them with two beds, some with four, allowing families the opportunity to be under one roof but still have their privacy. All but two suites have private pools.
In spite of its location outside a proclaimed game reserve, the wildlife around Ol Donyo Lodge has built up steadily over the past 20 years to significant numbers. Today Ol Donyo Lodge is one of the few areas in East Africa where the Big Five can be found running free and wild outside of a proclaimed national park or game reserve. Yet, over twenty years ago, guests would have been excited if they saw just the fresh footprint of an elephant. Today Ol Donyo Lodge’s wildlife is thriving, thanks to its practices and its community outreach programs. The area is now the home to some of the largest elephant “tuskers” alive in Africa today. A number of the massive elephants that frequent the lodge’s waterhole carry over 80 pounds of ivory.
BONHAM IN ACTION
The Maasailand Preservation Trust was founded in 1992 by Richard Bonham in response to the increasing conflict between the ecosystem and its human inhabitants. Its main focus is to provide the Maasai people with financial and other critically important benefits in return for conserving wildlife and habitat.
A pioneering project that has been very successful is the Predator Compensation Scheme. Maasai pastoralists around Amboseli have for the first time agreed not to kill predators in retaliation when a lion, cheetah, leopard, or hyena kill their livestock. Instead they are now financially compensated for their losses. Every livestock animal killed by a predator results in an agreed cash compensation for the owner. Agreements and contracts have been signed with Maasai communities over an area of over a million acres.
This project has been so successful that the predator slaughter and population decline has stopped. But the financial costs are high. Ol Donyo Lodge, via its affiliated trusts, now spends between $100,000 and $200,000 a year to compensate the communities for any livestock killed around Ol Donyo Lodge and on the tribal lands that surround Amboseli.
The trust has also worked in close collaboration with local communities on 1) improving health care and education, 2) using game scouts to combat game meat poaching and resolve human-wildlife conflict, 3) monitoring of highly endangered species, such as the Chyulu Black Rhino, and 4) conserving habitat through reforestation and natural resource management. in its battle against poachers, Ol Donyo Lodge is one of the few places that makes highly successful use of bloodhounds for tracking.
An equally significant conservation program at Ol Donyo Lodge is the partnering with the neighboring community to create a new wildlife conservancy and sanctuary that will guarantee the safety of wildlife while simultaneously uplifting the local Maasai community. The community will lease land to Ol Donyo Lodge to create a new conservancy. In return, Ol Donyo Wuas will guarantee payments each quarter to some 4500 rural Maasai families who earn little or no other revenue besides what they can earn from their livestock.
The first phase of this program is to create a conservancy of over 22,000 acres. An agreement has been struck in principal and the plan ultimately is to enlarge this to 70,000 acres, once Ol Donyo Lodge’s occupancies and revenues increase. This will create wildlife migration corridors that will link up old migration routes between Amboseli, Tsavo, and Chyulu parks. Besides the obvious benefit of creating a wildlife conservancy, the project will ensure that money gets paid largely to families.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“The aim of this form of payment policy is to ensure that the lowest strata of Maasai society in the region receive direct financial benefits from wildlife and the creation of the conservancy – and in particular that the women and families have the opportunity to earn money themselves. Studies have shown that once the women are involved in the community’s finances, their families and that of the community at large have the best chance of upliftment.”