I recently got the chance to visit Ol Pejeta ranch in Laikipia County. Ol Pejeta is a not for profit conservancy and is the largest rhino sanctuary in East Africa. The ranch used to be owned by the multi-millionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi until it was sold.
Situated on the equator between the foothills of the Aberdares range and Mt. Kenya , the 110,000 acre Ol Pejeta is the largest Black Rhino Sanctuary in East Africa. Home to 106 rhinos, which is 17% of Kenya’s total black rhino population out of an estimated 620 black rhinos in the country. It is also home to 23 southern white rhinos. The Conservancy provides the rhino with the most favorable breeding conditions in an attempt to pull the species back from the verge of extinction. The sanctuary has specially constructed ‘game corridors’ so that all animals are free to come and go which only restricts the movement of the rhinos. By putting knee high posts in the ground close together, rhinos are unable to move out of the Conservancy, thus increasing their protection from poachers.
There are 2 species of rhino native to Africa, the black and white rhino. I recall back when I was younger while on a school trip to the Lake Nakuru national park I was convinced that I had seen a white rhino because I thought white rhinos are actually white. It is thought that white was a mistranslation of the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’, denoting their big, square mouth. They are grazers and their wide mouths aids in eating grass. Black rhinos on the other hand have a prehensile or hooked lip for feeding on trees and shrubs. White rhinos have bigger heads and longer necks than the blacks; the white rhinos are also slightly taller with longer tails. The white rhino is built slightly differently, with their hips lower than their shoulders, resulting in a sloped shape to their back in contrast to the blacks that have dipped backs.
There are two subspecies of white rhino: the southern white rhinoceros and the northern white rhinoceros. Of the 2 subspecies the northern white rhinoceros is in dire straits – literally on the brink of extinction. The northern white rhinoceros once occurred in Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Zaire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Uganda. As late as 1960, there were more than 2,000 northern white rhinos remaining. In 2005, four northern whites still roamed Garamba National Park, DRC, but they haven’t been seen since 2007, and the subspecies is now assumed extinct in the wild. As of now there are only 5 individuals left, 3 of these reside in Ol Pejeta.
The most famous of these individuals is Sudan who is truly the last of his kind. He is the only surviving male northern white rhino. He was born in South Sudan and spent most of his life in a zoo in the Czech Republic and in 2009 he finally came back to the ‘homeland’. He did not make this journey alone; he was accompanied by one other male Suni (now deceased) and two females Najin (Sudan’s daughter) and Fatu (Najin’s daughter).
I was privileged enough to visit Sudan in his enclosure. Sudan comes across as tame and rather placid. White rhinos are generally less aggressive than black rhinos and I suppose after all those years in a zoo he must be used to humans. This should however not prevent you from exercising caution, at the end of the day he is still a wild animal.
His keepers advised us that if he starts walking towards you or charges shouldn’t flee. You should walk away slowly while calling out his name. Thankfully there was no need to put their advice into use. He was calm throughout the whole encounter and we were even able to take photos with him albeit from a safe distance.
Sudan is under armed guard 24/7.
Unfortunately I do not have any up close photos of Najin and Fatu. We were unable to get close to their enclosure because of the color of our vehicle; apparently they are not too fond of the color white.
After visiting Sudan we then went on to see Baraka (Swahili word for blessings). Baraka is a 21yr old male black rhino. He was born on the ranch to one of their most prolific breeders and was sadly blinded at the age of 13. He got into a fight with is younger brother over territory and lost one eye. The other eye got infected with cataracts and by the time it was discovered it was too late for treatment. He is now housed in a 100 acre enclosure.
Baraka seemed placid given his species reputation. He seemed disinterested in us but his keepers managed to lure him to the platform with food – even animals love a good treat. He has not always been this ‘tame’. When he first started living in his enclosure the keepers would leave a radio playing on the platform so that he would get used to the sound of human voices. Whenever he approached the radio he would be fed. Over time he got used to the sound of the radio and began to associate human voices with food. I got the chance to feed him.
What I found interesting is that he has what I would call a litter ‘box’. Right next to his platform is an area filled with rhino poop, despite not being trained he literally poops in the same spot
After getting to spend time with Sudan and Baraka we were given a tour of the security centre. There is a dedicated force of 32 armed and a canine anti-poaching unit. The highly trained dedicated force, watch over the conservancy. Particular attention is paid to the rhinos. The rangers patrol in two’s, each of the 100 black rhinos must be sighted at least once every 3 days, If not then there is cause for alarm.
I also got to see the canines in action.
The introduction of armed guards has greatly reduced the incidents of poaching at Ol Pejeta. The last incident was on the 20th of March last year.
Ol Pejeta is a not-for-profit organization – any surplus is re-invested. The ranch mainly survives on funds from tourism and also has a cattle ranch. Securing the wildlife from poachers especially the rhinos is their most costly expense (running into millions of dollars), so every penny helps. So if you’re interested in donating I will leave a link at the end of this post.
Please note that the Ol Pejeta Conservancy does not provide vehicles for game drives. You can come in your own vehicle or contact your camp / lodge to find out if a vehicle is included in your accommodations for more information you can check out their site here.
The conservation fees are as follows. You can find all the other charges here
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Ol Pejeta and I wold love to go back. I also can’t wait to share with you the rest my experiences during my time there.
SUPPORT OL PEJETA.