Lewa Wildlife Conservancy focuses on successful sustainable development

Kip is from the Il Ngwesi community, whose source of income and prosperity is the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (LWC), founded in 1995 by Ian Craig. Craig is a Lewa executive whose family once owned the land, now managed by a non-profit organization. Lewa is part of a larger conservancy of up to 28,400 hectares owned by different communities all working together to protect wildlife and tourism. The Il Ngwesi community represents over 6,000 people. In 1996, it won the British Airways Best Eco-Tourism Destination Award, and in 2002 the Equator Initiative Award, which recognizes successful sustainable development and the war on poverty in farming areas. «It is a wildlife sanctuary but we need the tourists in order to be able to protect the animals,» Craig said. «We are trying to maintain a balance. That is why we have set a limit to the accommodation capacity, but we make sure we earn the money we need to maintain the unit.» Before the conservancy was set up the Il Ngwesi often killed wild animals for food. «Lewa has changed our lives to some extent,» Kip said. «Now the wild animals are protected, and we continue to breed livestock but we now have tourism to meet the community’s extra needs. Now we can send someone from the tribe to study in order to staff our schools or hospitals. Our economy has improved without having had to abandon our traditional occupations.» Ian Craig told Kathimerini that the park has three different kinds of lodging. One is a tented camp for 24 visitors, focused on mid-level tourism. A second, more upscale lodge with beautiful views to Mount Kenya accommodates 12 people and is exclusively booked for single groups. A third lodge is reserved for those who support the conservation effort. All feature activities such as horseback riding and nature walks. «At the LWC, we work with six to seven different tribes altogether, providing security, training people, and giving them the knowledge and resources to look after what they have got,» Craig said. He said he did not embark on the scheme as a kind of «philosophical dream.» «I have a lot of friends there, like Kip,» Craig said. «I saw that poverty was increasing and cattle ranching was going nowhere. We were just wasting our lives and our time, and certainly it hits you right in the face what opportunities there are to change it. It’s not that complicated. It’s just bringing people together, putting in some common sense and putting some resources behind it. So that’s what’s driven me. It’s a great place to be.» «When Ian told us about the conservancy, I was one of those who rejected the idea, because he was white,» Kip said. «Mostly the young people like myself who have been to school opposed it because we knew the story of colonization. I thought he might have a hidden agenda. Somehow, he spent a lot of time and money. He approached our elders, whom we respect in our culture, and we got the idea we could benefit. White people used to camp in our land and not pay anything. He told us we could charge these people money. He helped us get 75,000 pounds in funds from the Kenyan government to build our own lodge for tourists. The money we get from tourism is not distributed in cash, but goes into development projects such as roads and schools, an aircraft and security patrols. Our community was the poorest in the country, but now we have mobile clinics and schools. The LWC is now the backbone of our economy and our community.»