Learning about conservation from Kenya at Ol Pejeta

When we were planning our around the world family trip, I knew it wouldn’t be complete without incredible Africa. So many of my pinnacle life decisions have come out of visiting there. In 2006 while laying on the grass in South Africa and talking about our life that we wanted to create together, my husband and I decided that we would one day take our family around the world, and that we should go home and start making that family. In 2012 I got to visit Uganda with Business Chicks on a trip with The Hunger Project that changed the course of my personal and professional life in such a momentous way. And so we planned the whole month of January to be in Africa visiting Morocco, Madagascar and Kenya. 

If you’ve ever started a google search for African safari’s you will see oh so many results come up and it’s so difficult to know what’s going to be good, great and awful. Because our trip is so long and we don’t want it to be just a vacation, but actually have some learning, I was trying to find a place that we could volunteer. I had seen Jane Goodall speak at a Business Chicks event last year and that kind of put in my head to volunteer at an animal sanctuary and so I emailed every single one of them. But those inconvenient little children are too young to be accepted for a volunteer but that’s how I discovered Ol Pejeta. Susan, The superstar coordinator there designed a trip for us that I honestly think is the best experience that any family could ever do together. 

We went behind the scenes of the conservancy to learn all about it. Ol Pejeta is a trailblazer for conservation innovation. It is the home of the last two Northern White rhinos on Earth which you’ll hear more about in my interview with Richard. We were taken inside the enclosure (in the safety of a car) and taught all about them and able to see them up close and personal. It was incredibly moving experience and really, unfortunately, the first time I had really thought about what it means when a species becomes extinct. 

It is home to a chimpanzee sanctuary established to rehabilitate animals rescued from the black market. Watching all of their interactions up close, feeding them lunch and seeing their gorgeous little babies was so funny.

We went for an early morning walk with armed rangers and watched as elephants, zebras, antelope and even a leopard, emerged from the night as the sun rose over the hill. 

We went lion tracking, trout fishing, saw the biggest abundance of majestic animals it’s ridiculous. 

We slept in luxury tent accomodation listening to lions roar and hyena’s chuckling away through the night. One day, we went out with the dog tracking unit to learn how they keep the conservancy safe from poachers. It boggles me that people can hunt these animals for sport and for goods. Just boggles me. 

What I love about Ol Pejeta so much is that they have a really wholistic view on conservation. It’s not just all about the animals, but it involves the whole community and supporting the community so that they in turn want to support the continuation of the wild. We visited schools that they’re supporting which with my boys aged 10 & 9 was quite eye opening. There was one tiny butt of chalk in each room and a chalk board so old and worn you could barely write on it. The floors, there were none, they’re just dirt. The desks all higgled I piggly rough wood. But the children all impeccably dressed in their uniforms and all studiously looking at the teacher working as hard as they can. Coming from an education background, I get so intrigued by different countries attitudes to education and I see so many of our Australian children take their education for granted. These children see it as such a privileged opportunity and every child I saw took it so seriously. They work so hard to get good marks so that they’re eligible for scholarships and can go to secondary school. It’s both inspiring and heartbreaking. 

I could talk for hours about our experience there and what we learnt but I really want to get to my interview with Richard. What I will say is that if you get the opportunity to go to Africa, take a visit to Ol Pejeta.

Through this whole trip we’ve learnt so much about how the world works and the flow on implications of one action that we take. The experience in Africa is just polarising and for me, it was deeply spiritual and left me wanting to learn so much more about global politics, conservation, poverty and made me want to find a way to make a greater impact with the life I lead with helping humans, but much less of an impact on the destruction of our planet. 

A lot of the time we just think that history is in the past, but history is being made right now. As we make our day to day decisions, we are effecting the way that our history will be written in the future and everyone has different views on whether it’s heading in a good direction or a poor direction and truly, I believe in different elements it’s in a bit of both. 

But we owe it to future generations to make good decisions for our planet and for the inhabitants to come. There’s things that are so much better than they were decades and centuries ago. But there are things we’re totally abusing and I think education is the key to that. I am very early in my learning journey for all of this and the more I read and talk to people the more I’m starting to understand the link between everything that I didn’t really think about before. 

While we were there I got more and more excited as the days went on and then was lucky enough when the CEO Richard consented to having an interview with me. Best thing was, straight after we got to go out with him and his awesome wife Sarah to drink beers with the zebras on the plains as the sunset. Amazing. 

So Richard Vigne is deeply passionate about his life’s work and what he’s created and creating in the future. He’s the son of a tea planter, born in Kenya and studied in England and has devoted his life to conservation ever since.

Listen to the full interview with Ol Pejeta CEO Richard Vigne here. 

Witnessing the last two Northern White Rhino’s in the world

Witnessing the last two Northern White Rhino’s in the world

Tina Tower