During the months of July and August I have, together with my daughter Angela Sheldrick and her husband Robert and their sons, been able to spend time between all our field projects down in Tsavo. I also had the opportunity to visit Project Amu near the coast, close to Lamu Island. The Trust’s Project Amu is part of our “Saving Habitats” initiative and here we work closely with the Lamu Conservation Trust www.lamuconservationtrust.org empowering the community to preserve their irreplaceable wildlife heritage.
It was the first time I had been to Amu Ranch, (64,000 acres in extent) and it was, indeed, a most memorable visit. Omari Twalib Mzee who heads Project Amu met us at the jetty where we landed by boat, accessing Amu through one of the many Mangrove creeks whose watery fingers reach into the mainland. We drove the short distance through herds of coastal topi to Farouk’s Camp, one of two of Amu’s base camps. Constructed by the Amu staff, the camp was simple but extremely practical, made purely from natural materials. The Amu team is an inspiration, here everyone does everything, and we were treated to a royal welcome by the Amu rangers.
We were escorted to the dining banda (thatched open-air building) where a magnificent breakfast spread had been prepared for us by Arafat, Amu’s head of security - the breakfast was a delicious mix of fresh cucumber and mango juices (I loved the cucumber, never having had it before), Swahili ‘mandazis’, roasted home grown cashew nuts, coconut and fresh mangoes, passion fruit and bananas as well as hard boiled eggs, white and brown bread. We were joined there by many of the Amu team including Bwana Mkuu and Mwalimu Badi, a noted Historian familiar with the regions ancient culture and historical relics.
I was treated to a tour of the camp and shown the collection of poaching equipment the rangers had been able to recover and confiscate. I was deeply impressed by what the local people had been able to achieve with the financial assistance the Trust has given the Lamu Conservation Trust. The makuti-roofed buildings they themselves had erected using doum-palm poles with flooring made of coconut matting also had beautiful doum-wood furniture, which was nothing short of master-pieces. But, by far the most heart-warming of all was the overt appreciation and gratitude that was lavished upon us. Our help and support of this project is deeply and genuinely appreciated and thanked in a most touching manner.
Amu Ranch is a little-explored corner of Kenya which is home to huge herds of buffalo, giraffe, and Coastal Topi plus many other rare species such as pale Somali lions with blue eyes, Aders’ Duikers (believed to be extinct on mainland Africa already, but which still occur here) and endemic species of fish, bird and insect life. It is a picture-book wilderness of open areas fringed by Doum and Raffia palms and huge coastal trees such as Baobabs, Tamarinds, Bambakofi (Mahogany) and Figs with rain-filled pools and small lakes adorned with blue and white water-lilies and abundant birdlife everywhere. Unique in that it boasts beach and bush, its remnant forested places represent outliers of the once dense Central African Rainforest that circled equatorial Africa, but which, like the elephants, has been widely depleted. As Amu abuts the Indian Ocean, one can enjoy water-sports and the beach yet is within an hour of such pristine wilderness home to great herds, which makes this area so exciting and diverse.
We were treated to a fantastic four-hour game drive along some of the 280 kilometers of track cut entirely by hand during throughout the ranch, where we saw the herds of coastal topi, eland, zebra, giraffe and buffalo with clouds of white egrets amongst them, bushbuck, oribi, gerenuks, warthogs, monkeys and baboons. Only a few elephants remain in the Lamu area, having been decimated by poachers, but we saw evidence of Lamu’s ghostly elephant phantoms. Those that have managed to survive the current poaching onslaught are very secretive and nocturnal but they are depicted on the camera traps set in strategic places. At one time the Lamu region held Kenya’s second largest population of elephants to Tsavo, but sadly few remain, their numbers having been severely depleted over the years. Amu’s mind-blowingly beautiful environment is also home to spectacular birdlife. Carmine bee-eaters breed in banks and there are rollers, herons, saddle-billed storks and just about every species in the book to enjoy in such a magnificent setting.
The next day Angela, Robert and their children Taru and Roan returned to spend more time on Amu Ranch to inspect the newly constructed but still incomplete Milihoi security camp, situated on the eastern side of Amu. Visiting this unique and beautiful land has left me extremely proud and impressed with what just moderate help can achieve when the local community is so passionate about preserving their wildlife and natural heritage, and it reinforces the belief that as long as intact balance ecosystems remain they must be saved at all costs, before they are irrevocably lost forever. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust takes great pride in partnering with the community of Lamu to help save, protect and nurture such a precious and unique habitat.
Please support Project Amu and the Lamu Conservation Trust by donating online and giving whatever you can to help protect this incredible wilderness https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/is/donate_now.asp