Big Life Foundation in depth

Background
The Maasailand Preservation Trust (MPT) was founded in 1992 by Richard Bonham in response to the increasing conflict between a growing human population and the local wildlife and habitat. MPT’s main focus is to provide the Maasai people with financial and other critically important benefits in return for conserving wildlife and habitat. The Maasai are a pastoral people who rely on their cattle herds for food and income and historically have not received adequate financial benefits from the presence of wildlife. Given the rapid population growth rates of people and livestock over the last century, the Maasai have found themselves in a situation where the costs of living with wildlife far exceed the benefits. Conflicts such as competition for grazing land and livestock depredation by lions and other predators have led to the persecution of wildlife. The community-owned grazing lands of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem have, since their designation in the 1970s, been ecologically essential to the sustainability of the world’s greatest remaining mega-fauna, while increasing human-wildlife conflict was leading inexorably toward the local extinction of highly-threatened species. Something had to be done.

MPT’s work was integrated to produce a truly innovative and comprehensive conservation program with unprecedented success.
In 2012, the MPT was folded into Big Life Foundation. Big Life Foundation was set up by Nick Brandt in 2010 and their aims were closely aligned with MPTs. This means that Big Life has significantly expanded both its resources and operations: it now employs 250 rangers in 21 outposts across 2 million acres of ecosystem.
Using innovative conservation strategies and collaborating closely with local communities, partner NGOs, national parks and government agencies, Big Life Foundation seeks to protect and sustain East Africa’s wild lands and wildlife, including one of the greatest populations of elephants left in East Africa.
The only organization in East Africa that has coordinated anti-poaching teams operating on both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border, Big Life recognizes that sustainable conservation can only be achieved through a community-based collaborative approach, which is at the heart of Big Life’s philosophy.
Big Life’s vision is to establish a successful holistic conservation model in Amboseli-Tsavo that can be replicated across the African continent.

Big Life also in conjunction with KWS) works to: resolve human-wildlife conflict; keep river systems flowing and ensure equitable share of water sources between wildlife and people; provide general security, including anti-stock theft and protection of the indigenous forests; facilitate operation of the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF); and rescue people and wildlife in distress; securing long-term sustainability for the project by generating benefits from conservation for local communities; and preventing environmental degradation of the wider ecosystem

Game Scout programme
Big Life runs one of the largest teams of game scouts teams, they now employ 250 scouts to run anti-poaching patrols across the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. The Game scout and rhino programme specifically focuses on enhancing the viability of threatened species and works alongside Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the programme consists of the following:

  • 250+ rangers across the two countries
  • 21 ranger outposts
  • 14 anti-poaching vehicles (Land Cruisers, Land Rovers)
  • Aerial support and monitoring operating in both countries : sharing in the overheads for a Cessna 206 and Super Cub in Kenya, and purchasing a Microlight in Tanzania
  • 4 tracker dogs, vital to operations, two for each country (the first ever used for wildlife conservation in Tanzania)
  • Latest technology night-vision equipment, GPS’es and other necessary equipment for the ranger teams.
  • Large network of informers
  • The Game scouts have the authority to arrest people committing wildlife crimes, and an Intelligence and Enforcement Officer follows up these cases when they appear in court, to record the fines and / or sentences awarded by the judge.


Game Scout and Rhino programme

As part of the game scout programme, Big Life has a specialised trained team of 10 rhino scouts whose responsibility it is to monitor and protect the population of critically endangered rhinos 24 hrs a day.

The scouts work for 3 weeks straight living in camp and then get one week off to go home; there are 3 rhino scout camps around the rhino area. They do patrols in the morning and in the afternoon, not at night and they travel in teams of 3-4. If you want to learn more about what it is like to be a rhino scout please read our blog.

Big Life’s game scouts receive regular security and field training as needed; scouts received literacy training in December 2011 from a teacher who had been given a bursary by Big Life.

Rhino Research

The faecal DNA study carried out by Antony Wandera (KWS employee) in 2008-9 has revealed that the Chyulu Hills' rhino population is largely very closely related - the population has been pretty isolated since the poaching epidemic of the 1970s and 80s - but two are different. It emerged that two animals had escaped from the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West National Park, to the south of the Chyulus, and somehow they found their way to the north end of the hills. The genetic diversity is welcome and much-needed. This research led to the KWS’s decision, in The Conservation Strategy and Management Plan for the Black Rhino in Kenya 2012-16, to translocate black rhino into the Chyulus to increase the number of animals and viability of the breeding population.

Education
Big Life funds bursaries for a number of students at local schools, but this is unconnected with the Game scout and rhino programme (61 Maasai students given full wildlife scholarships; three schools built on the ranch; 17 teachers’ salaries supported at the local schools).
Community
Big Life employs nearly 300 people from the local Maasai communities in which it operates, making it the largest single employer in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. The 10,000 people on the Mbirikani Group Ranch all benefit from the Game scouts’ human-wildlife conflict mitigation, from the Predator Compensation Fund, from the education support, and from a $1.9 million free healthcare facility set up by Big Life. Currently, the outreach programme is supervising HIV anti-retroviral treatment for 4,500 out-patients.
Monitoring and evaluation
Big Life collects and logs all field and aerial surveillance data from anti-poaching and monitoring activities with a responsibility to report to a wide coalition of funders. With the increased use of the Rhino ID database and the GIS information, data will be more easily accessible and will be used for future management decisions.

Habitat and other species:
Straddling southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, Amboseli is amongst the richest wildlife areas in Africa.
The Chyulu Hills National Park in Kenya is a long range of volcanic hills that acts as a crucial water catchment area for wildlife, livestock and neighbouring communities, and provides shelter and food for a high concentration and diversity of wildlife, including threatened species such as elephant, cheetah, leopard, African wild dog and giant forest hog.
Elephant, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest and gazelle migrate with the rains in search of green flushes and draw back to permanent swamps in search of water and pasture each dry season. Here densely packed herds attract an array of predators, including lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. The dry bush country harbors giraffe, eland, gerenuk, lesser kudu and a host of smaller animals. Add a rich variety of birds and the dramatic backdrop of Kilimanjaro and it is no wonder that Amboseli is one of Africa’s most iconic landscapes, and a favourite tourist destination.

To donate to this programme please click here and select Kenya -  Big Life Foundation from the drop down

Visiting the Chyulu Hills
The place to stay is Ol Donyo Wuas.

Scott Wilson (bottom right) with the massed ranks of the Maasailand Preservation Trust, looking across the Mbirikani Group RanchCredit: Scott Wilson