Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Sweetwaters
Ol Pejeta Conservancy is a 90,000 acre wildlife conservancy boasting an astounding variety of animals including the non-indigenous chimpanzees and the big 5 (the endangered black rhino, leopard, elephant, buffalo and lion) and situated between the foot hills of the Aberdares and the magnificent snowcapped Mount Kenya.
The combination of amazing wildlife and stunning views across the open plains of Ol Pejeta guarantees an unforgettable safari experience.
During the colonial era, the Laikipia Plateau was utilized as an extensive cattle ranching area. Lacking the rainfall required to successfully cultivate crops, cattle ranching was seen as the next best way to utilize the land. In those days wildlife was perceived as having little or no value to landowners.
Ol Pejeta’s past is filled with many colourful characters:
John & Jane Kenyon took over the management of Ol Pejeta in 1949 when it was owned by Lord Delamere and together they spent the next 15 years putting their lives and souls into the development of the ranch.
When John first took on Ol Pejeta he was joined by a school friend named Marcus Wickham Boynton. Together they took on the challenge of organizing the then 57,000 acre ranch into a successful beef producing company. Over the next few years they successfully expanded the farm to cover an estimated 90,000 acres.
Quotes Jane Kenyon: “Cattle and wildlife were not considered a healthy match. If you were a farmer you were a farmer, you took the rough with the smooth, your goals were to have a good herd, with good births and low deaths and wildlife was not part of that equation”
Since that period the conservancy has had a number of owners, all entrepreneurs in their own right. They included John Kenyon’s old school-friend Marcus Wickham Boynton, notorious for occasionally shooting cattle “he didn’t like the look of”.
Over time cattle ranching became less and less profitable. Increasingly elephant populations that previously used the ranch as a transit area from the north to Mount Kenya and the Aberdares were forced to take up permanent residence on the property. As a result the fences required to maximize cattle productivity were destroyed, becoming impossible to maintain cost-effectively.
Consequently, in the face of declining wildlife populations elsewhere and as a means to effectively utilize the land, the recent past has seen increasing emphasis placed upon wildlife conservation.
In 1988, the Sweetwaters Game Reserve(24,000 acres) was opened by another of Ol Pejeta’s previous owners, Lonrho Africa. Primarily started as a sanctuary for the endangered black rhino, wildlife populations (including the “Big Five”) have steadily increased since that time.
The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary opened in 1993. Lonrho Africa, the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) established a facility to receive and provide sanctuary and housing to an original group of 3 chimps orphaned at a young age by the bush-meat trade. With the evacuation of the JGI facility in Bujumbura due to civil war breaking out in Burundi, the chimps were brought to Sweetwaters. In 1995, 9 older chimpanzees arrived, followed at the beginning of 1996 by 10 younger chimpanzees.
The Sanctuary is partitioned into two parts, with the river acting as a natural border between the two groups. The eastern side of the sanctuary is 96 acres and home to the older group while the western side is 151 acres and home to the younger group. The sole objective of the sanctuary is to provide a safe, secure and permanent refuge for theses chimpanzees in an environment that is as natural as possible.
Owing to the ongoing destruction of the West African rainforest and continued demand for bush-meat, Sweetwaters is compelled to continue accepting new orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The sanctuary now holds 40 chimpanzees with 16 fully qualified staff taking care of them day and night.
In 2004 the reserve was purchased by Fauna and Flora International, a UK based conservation organization. The Sweetwaters game reserve has now been extended to encompass the entire ranching area to create the “Ol Pejeta Conservancy”, approximately 90,000 acres in extent. This has created the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, with the aim of generating profit from wildlife tourism and complementary activities (including cattle) for reinvestment into community development in the local area.