Small is Beautiful…a Kenyan safari with a community message

Seeing as I took my Kenyan childhood home and the tragic events that recently unfolded in Nairobi as inspiration for my last blog, I thought I’d post up a piece I did earlier this year about an interesting little enclave.

Slightly off the tourist trail, LUMO Community Wildlife Sanctuary has been a favourite of mine for a while. Tiny in comparison to its famous Tsavo neighbours, the reserve is community owned, and fascinated by the implications of that, I went to find out a little more about its story.

The article was published in Ndege in their March-May edition this year (2013).

You can read it in PDF form here: Tsavo_Feature or below:

WHEN you think of a Kenyan safari you probably think first of it’s famous plains, the majestic Masai Mara or romantic Tsavo.

But as ideas around tourism and conservation shift, there are other options, hidden gems and smaller, community minded reserves with big plans.

Nestled snugly between the borders of Tsavo East and West and neighbouring Taita, LUMO Community Wildlife Sanctuary may not have the big name draw of it’s better known cousins, but there’s a lot more to it than it’s relatively modest borders suggest.

Community owned and run, the reserve was formed when three ranches, Lualenyi, Mramba and Oza, decided to pool a 46,000 hectare sprawl and dedicate it to conservation, officially registering as a trust in 2001.

A wildlife corridor to it’s larger neighbours it’s teeming with game, but for many visitors it’s appeal lies in it’s community ethos – and ambitious plans for the future.

For Iain Leckie and his wife Helen, when the chance to take on the reservation’s lodge Lion’s Bluff on a 25-year lease came up, they didn’t take much agonising.

“We’d been camping here for years as it was well within reach of the coast, where Helen runs an eye clinic, for long weekends,” explains Iain, a genial host – as many glowing reviews on Tripadvisor attest to.

“So when the place came up I already understood quite a lot about what we were facing.”

The community owned lodge supports LUMO’s projects as it earns money from the lease, seperate bed night charges and an overall percentage.

“There’s a huge passion there,” says Iain. “The real reason we went for the long lease is because we want to be in this area for the rest of our working lives.

“It’s a forgotten little part of Kenya and even though places like nearby Salt Lick Lodge have been there since the early Seventies, somehow it’s been taken off the tourist map.”

Iain and Helen overhauled the lodge completely, giving it the rustic, boutique feel it now has.

Walking along winding, wooden walkways above the dramatic sweep of the bluff, up to the open sided restaurant or along to the twelve timber built rondavels where bedrooms with wooden four poster beds sit, it’s won itself plenty of fans.

Most of the staff live locally – many are shareholders – and most of the food is grown nearby, while the reserve provides other employment with rangers working alongside Kenya Wildlife Service to keep poachers at bay.

Run by a board of nine directors, three from each ranch, it has big plans for the future to offer the kind of employment opportunities that are only just creeping into the rural area.

Sanctuary manager Oscar Wadero originally left the area to work in the hotel business in Tanzania, but returned to take on the position, marking a huge development in prospects for talent in the area as management and skilled jobs are created.

His interest in conservation dated back to childhood and he was delighted he could combine his passion with his professional management expertise – and return home.

Oscar sees the community’s involvement, working hand in hand to support themselves and conserve the wildlife, as the best way to instill a similar interest in youngsters who may in turn plough their skills back into the project in future years.

“When it comes to conservation I think it has to come from someone’s heart,” says Oscar. “It has to be a passion.”

Iain adds: “This is why LUMO’s so important, if it can create the income and the atmosphere where youngsters can get educated and get qualifications here then in time we’ll have real skills in the area.”

Where to Stay:

Lion’s Bluff

WITH huts decked out with rustic, handmade furniture, each with their own private balcony, you won’t feel intruded upon here.

Wooden walkways lead to the restaurant and bar, with breathtaking panoramic views – which on a clear day include Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro.

You’ll get a warm welcome with helpful, friendly staff and there’s plenty to do – whether it’s bird walks, night drives or Out of Africa style bush breakfasts where you’re greeted with champagne.

Cheetah Campsite

IF you prefer safaris stripped back – or don’t have the budget for luxury – you won’t compromise on the view.

Perched down from the main lodge, it’s perfect for a pre-campfire sundowner, and you may even get an elephant wandering by.

There are basic but clean kitchen, toilet and shower facilities and you can hire tents, bedding, cooking stoves and kitchen equipment.

For Lion’s Bluff and Cheetah Camp visit: http://www.lionsblufflodge.com

Tsavo Volunteers

IF you like your experiences abroad to do some good, check out the grass roots organisation that sees projects bridging the gap between community and conservation.

You’ll patrol the reserve, release animals from poacher snares and work in schools.

 Visit: www.facebook.com/pages/Tsavo-Volunteers/194978920522523

What you’ll see:

 Elephants, elephants and more elephants. Lion, an abundance of the usually elusive lesser Kudu, swathes of buffalo, impala, hartebeest, dik dik, klipspringer and water and bush buck. And if you’re lucky, there’s a pair of leopards with cubs.

© Jonathan Marsh

© Jonathan Marsh

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