Kenya: Big Life Foundation
The Big Life Foundation works with the Maasai to protect the wild lands of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and its elusive, black rhino population, becoming the largest single employer in the region.
In the wild lands of Amboseli-Tsavo, on the boundary between southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, Big Life Foundation works with the Maasai community to protect a free-roaming and genetically diverse rhino population living in the Chyulu Hills. This is a small population but an extremely important, iconic one. The Chyulus is one of very few habitats ideal for an expanding rhino population. Protecting habitat for this population is vital if Kenya is to reach its national, long-term goal of being home to 2,000 Eastern black rhinos.
Threats to rhino in Amboseli-Tsavo
The Chyulu Hills National Park is among the richest areas for wildlife in Africa. A long range of volcanic hills, its peaks and valleys provide water and shelter to wildlife, people and livestock including threatened species such as elephant, cheetah, leopard, African wild dog and giant hog. Animals migrate here in search of water and browse in the dry seasons. But this vibrancy also led the habitat to experience a steep decline in the 20th Century – a decline that brought its rhino population to the brink.
The Maasai people who live in the Amboseli region –on the Mbirikani Group Ranch, which stretches from the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro to the Chyulu Hills are pastoralists, who rely on cattle for food and income. As human populations have grown, pasture for grazing has shrunk. Livestock losses to lions and other predators have become more common as humans and wildlife increasingly share the same habitat.
In the 1970s, Kenya’s rhinos suffered heavy losses to poaching, with a small, fragment of a population surviving in the remote Chyulu Hills. Sadly, it seemed as though the extinction of many species was inevitable. Around the same time, the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem became enshrined as community-owned land, and was designated as a conservation area.
Recognising that the Maasai, who move across national borders, were key to the ecosystem’s success or failure, Big Life Foundation – founded by Richard Bonham and Nick Brandt - set up the first ever cross-border anti-poaching units between Kenya and Tanzania, training Maasai people to become rangers whilst land was reforested, habitats restored and water sources protected.
Big Life Foundation and the Maasai
Today, Big Life Foundation continues to protect wildlife whilst developing economic opportunities for the Maasai – and improving their quality of life. More than 300 people are directly employed by the foundation.
To help drive sustainable development, Big Life Foundation funds bursaries and scholarships for a number of students at local schools and covers teacher salaries. A Predator Compensation Fund reimburses cattle owners if their livestock is killed by predators. A free healthcare facility also benefits the local community, and HIV anti-retroviral treatment for people living with HIV is helping thousands of patients in the region. Underpinning all this work is a burgeoning tourism industry.
And, working with the Kenya Wildlife Service – the government body responsible for protecting wildlife – Big Life Foundation provides 24-hour security for the surviving, isolated rhino population in the Chyulu Hills.
How your support helps
Save the Rhino’s supporters are protecting one of the last truly wild rhino populations in Kenya – and Africa. Our funding is focused on helping the rhino monitors keep track of the population and their breeding – not easy when these elusive creatures are often never seen through the dense, impenetrable undergrowth.
The population may be just a fragment of its former size, but the wider ecosystem of the Chyulu Hills is perfect rhino habitat and could feasibly become home to a much larger population.
Save the Rhino aims to help build the population, increase its genetic diversity and therefore its fertility and resilience to disease, and – in the future – see Kenya’s wider rhino population thriving.