For the past couple of days I have been the guest of the Olarro lodge and conservancy. Quite far north of the main Mara reserve, the Olarro conservancy has had a rocky path but now, with good management behind it, it’s back up and running. I was lucky enough to have visited two years ago, just as the conservancy was getting back on its feet so I was keen to see how things had developed.My time there was spent with Shaun and William, conservancy managers who look like they’re straight off the set of Crocodile Dundee or a cowboy western film. They gave me a glimpse of what it takes to run a conservancy. They’re highly passionate, uncompromising conservationists and their hard work to get the conservancy back on its feet has paid off. On my first visit there were plenty of the zebra and wildebeest type of wildlife here, and we did get a fleeting glimpse of the first lions seen in the conservancy in many years. This time though animal populations had dramatically risen. There were big herds of plains game including species like eland which weren’t present at all two years ago, and many more, far less shy, lions, cheetah and elephants. Lots of elephants. Olarro might now be the best place in the region of the Mara to see elephants.
But more memorable than the animals were the people in and around Olarro. There was Esther, a Maasai girl, who was one of the few female wildlife guides in Kenya to have obtained a silver guiding award. She had fought hard against a culture that traditionally regarded education – especially female education – as a waste of time. Her parents had wanted her married off early, but she had defied them and insisted on an education and not getting married. She had gone around her extended family asking for help to get her into school but everyone told her to go and get married. Fortunately she didn’t give in and eventually she managed to find the funds to get through school and university to where she is today. Now even her parents are proud. She is the changing face of the modern Maasai woman.
Then there was James Nangiyo who had told me with great charm that he had a farm. A worm farm that used elephant dung to produce fertiliser/compost to sell to larger farms and gardens. Every morning he would scout the surrounding bush for elephant dung which he would mix with cow dung and kitchen scraps and then pour into a hole in the ground into which he would add his worms. After a few weeks of the worms working their magic the ingredients would have been broken down into a fine grain fertiliser ready to be sold. But before bagging up the fertiliser James sifts through it all carefully removing his worms which are then gently returned to the big plastic crates in which he keeps them. For me this was a nice little example of how one man, who had once considered elephants a mere nuisance that destroyed crops and damaged property, had come to value the presence of elephants and believe that they should be protected for future generations.