Animal Rights Reserved (ARR) is perhaps Kenya’s newest animal charity. Beginning its operations less than a year ago - in March 2012 - it is already saving lives and making a good impact on the wildlife and community around Lake Naivasha and a wide surrounding area of the Great Rift Valley, and as far away as the Maasai Mara.
Now there is a 24-hour mobile veterinary unit ready to help wildlife in distress 24/7. It has been established and works hand-in-hand with the powerful Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which protects wildlife around the country and strives to resolve human-animal conflicts. Ephantus Ndambiri, the KWS wildlife vet on call with ARR, is one of only 12 veterinarians in the country who has been certified to take care of wildlife problems, analyze medical problems, work with the extremely powerful drugs needed to anesthetize a large animal when it needs medical attention, and also conduct forensic and post-mortem investigations.
Together with Rob Mills, manager of ARR, and a KWS lab technician, three KWS rangers, and a driver, Ephantus is often called for anti-poaching, such as removing snares from animals that have been caught by crude traps and are suffering. Hopefully these animals are not terminally wounded or infected.The team is also on call to investigate unusual problems and behaviors which have been noticed and reported by people in the community. Sometimes those issues require lab forensics as well. The team seeks to find out what is ailing the animals. And they must put down the animals whose suffering is too far along.
Sometimes the ARR team must relocate animals that are causing fear and disruption in the homes and farms of the exploding human population in the area. For example, a a python or a water buffalo might come too close. There are also those helpless baby animals that are found alone - lost and separated from their mothers and herds, that cannot survive on their own. They are brought back to the rescue center on the property of the Kongoni Lodge. A stationary vet unit would help them as well as other animals that need longer term care, and setting up this unit is currently in the works. (Please see my article on Kongoni Lodge in LASplash.) In this unit, the animals will be nurtured and eventually released back to the wild on the recommendation of the KWS. Another project of ARR is helping to reestablish the numbers of the Somalia ostrich, which have almost vanished in the area. A fine young male lives on the lodge property, and the ARR team is searching for a few possible mates.
ARR was founded and is subsidized by the big-heartedness and generosity of Margaret and Ola Zak, mother and daughter philanthropists from Poland who have always had a soft spot for animals and conservation. In Poland, Margaret set up a children’s charity in the '90s, which has become one of the most successful in that country. Over 19,000 children have been helped through her fundraising for high-tech medical equipment along with aid to sick children of impoverished families. In 2010, Margaret was gifted the Kongoni Lodge property on 1,000 acres of land by her television-mogul husband Zygmunt Solorz-Zak. She has since stepped down from her children’s charity and immediately started working towards improving conditions for wildlife in peril in the area surrounding Kongoni Lodge.
Ola has a masters degree in conservation and will soon start studying for her PhD in Kenyan wildlife conservation. As research manager and director of ARR, she has also brought on her partner Edward Winter to help out with the marketing aspects of Kongoni Lodge and to help sustain the charity operation.
One of the first projects the Zaks undertookhas been to purchase another thousand acres down the road from the lodge exclusively for wildlife. This area is Mundui Reserve, which they saved from being developed. Next they had erected 10 kilometres of electric fence, which separates the wild animals from the nearby farms where strays were always getting into trouble.
Margaret sat down with Rob Mills, a native Kenyan whose grandparents emigrated from the U.K. He grew up on a dairy farm in western Kenya. Rob has always a had a passion for wildlife, although before he got together with Margaret, he was using his business skills, running a multimilliondollar horticultural enterprise nearby. There are over 500,000 people employed by the flower industry in the Lake Naivasha area. The climate is perfect. Greenhouses are lined all around the shore of the several lakes in the region that grow flowers and ship to countries globally, including Holland, India and others.
Rob says because the wages paid in the flower industry are relatively good, many family members and friends of the employed are coming to the area to get work. But there are not enough jobs for everyone. So parts of the community fall into poverty, and people end up poaching animals to feed their families. “Poaching cannot be separated from what’s going on in the country,” he says.
In addition to these family poachers, there are the commercial poachers who hunt wildlife and send the meat in trucks to Nairobi and other large towns. The third type of poaching is the criminal-syndicate type. With this type, international syndicates are involved. They are poaching elephants and rhinos, which generally requires an insider, a middleman, and a big-money man - typically from China or the Far East.
Because there are no elephants in the Lake Naivasha area and almost no rhinos, big-syndicate poaching had not occurred - until recently. During our visit in early December of 2012, the one rhino sanctuary - which is located adjacent to the Kongoni Lodge and which harbors about 14 rhinos - had one of its precious charges slaughtered, its horns and face cut brutally from its body. The facts surrounding the incident, as always happens, according to Ephantus, are unclear.
Supposedly rangers saw the rhino at 9AM, and at 11AM in the middle of an open field, it was dead. More than 7 shots with an automatic weapon were fired - unheard by anyone. In 80 - 90 percent of cases, someone on the inside has aided the killers. A helicopter brought in a team with sniffer dogs from Nairobi to hunt for the poachers. As of this writing, the smaller horn had been recovered in a bag.
Conservancies that keep wildlife, especially rhinos, have to pass security test criteria established by the KWS. If compliance is found lacking and not brought up to standards in a short time, the rhino can be taken away to what is deemed a safer area. People in the conservation community have been shocked by the rhino murder. The KWS director came to inspect, and there is an ongoing investigation of a crime that is happening far too often in Kenya and all around Africa. It is harder and harder to keep the precious animals safe - their horns and tusks are worth more than gold.
When I asked Rob what he thought local residents would be thinking of this, he replied that the average struggling local has never even seen a rhino and so probably would not think much about it. And this of course is part of the integral societal problem and why these horrible poachings can exist in the first place. The extreme poverty, lack of employment, and lack of education suffered by so many are partly to blame. Overly tempting to some will be the free meat, a few shillings, a chance to make ready cash for information reporting when the animals are vulnerable, or simply looking the other way. Many do not realize the treasures of wildlife they have inherited. They feel that they have never been able to enjoy or get anything they can see out of others' conservation efforts.
Large tracts of land in Kenya are owned by wealthy Europeans. These owners often do care about conservation, but they are not usually very involved with the community. Nor are they necessarily aware of the latest problems or security requirements. This is why ARR’s mission is not only to help animals but also to help develop sustainable efforts for humans. One really cannot exist without the other. Some of the most successful conservation groups in Kenya are those that have banned together with other like-minded people in their area. Working together, they have developed programs to help the community. For example, they've created school programs that teach about nature and have provided school buses to bring in children to the conservancies to learn about animals and their importance.
In a country like Kenya where there are so many tribes with differing and often primitive traditions, sometimes with inhumane practices, educating children is essential. ARR has been active in the community for only three-quarters of a year, and the majority of people in the region still do not know much or anything about ARR and its work. This needs to change. Ephantus explained, “Without embracing the community, the project will not have a life.”
This is why one of the two most pressing needs of ARR is to add trained personnel able to reach out to the impoverished in the community, find out what their most dire needs and wants are, and build bridges. This person would also hopefully reach out to other conservation groups in the neighboring area and create forums to discuss the issues and pool resources.
Rob emphasized, “We must all come together and get the communities involved so they have a sense of ownership of the animals as well.” A local public-relations-trained person could also help spread news of ARR’s work to institutions and even to corporations that might find effective ways to use their charity dollars by helping this foundation grow.
To be more effective in their work, Ephantus and Rob feel their second pressing need to acquire a huge flatbed 4-wheel-drive truck. It shoud have a crane with capacity to lift 12 tons or more. The vehicle and crane are very much needed when there is a large problem animal that needs moving, such as four buffalos that recently came near a residence, Having the truck would also save money and resources because, without it, the team must round up 30-plus men to try to move a darted animal. Rob thinks they could find this equipment for a donation of $70,000.
Rob and Ephantus wanted to express their sincere gratitude to the KWS for supporting their work. And especially to their gracious founders, Margaret and Ola, without whom they wouldn’t be able to do their valuable work. Ola currently works as the research manager. ARR is a charity that deserves watching and supporting. They are welcoming of volunteers from around the world - especially vet techs and IT people who are good on the computer for research. If you are interested or know someone who might be, you can apply to the KWS and ask to work with ARR. As an added bonus, the volunteers will be able to receive food and lodging at the fabulous and luxurious Kongoni Lodge at minimal cost during their stay.
Ola is very optimistic about the growth of ARR in the future. “There is nothing more important to me than animals - every rescue, any collected snare, is a personal victory for me which cannot be compared to any other feeling in the world. It's what I live for and intend to do for the rest of my life. I really do think that we have the opportunity to make something really great that can truly make an impact, a difference - we just need time and lots and lots of work, which we are all very willing to deliver.”
Photos courtesy of ARR and Georja Umano.
Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.
For more details and to make a contribution, please visit the ARR website:
and Kongoni Lodge: