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Guest post by Love Laikipia

Love Laikipia Visits Lion Landscapes at Loisaba Conservancy

A few weeks back I received an invitation by Antonia Leckie, the Project Manager for Laikipia Lion Landscapes, to visit the project to document their work and meet the lion rangers. This was an opportunity I wouldn’t miss out because we are all about conservation, awareness, and advocacy and all matters regarding the greater Laikipia region. Getting to meet actual people on the front line was bucket-list worthy. You might have seen Antonia in the latest Land Rover video testing the new defender at Borana Conservancy in conjunction with Tusk Org collaring 2 lions, yes she is the one. A biologist from Mombasa Kenya, She had earlier told me that what drew her to Lion Landscapes was that it is one of the few conservation organisations which truly works through partnerships and collaboration, and combines conservation with purposeful research. I quickly looked through my list of possible collaborators who had reached out to me and Joe Kiswili – @StudioRanch on Instagram, a brilliant former Ad Man and now content creator with a Nikon D 850 camera and a bias towards human interest stories - ticked all the boxes, and so we agreed to do a day visit to Loisaba Conservancy, in Laikipia. We met up at 5 AM on a bitterly cold Nairobi morning and set off for Nanyuki to meet Antonia in by 7.30 AM but we had car trouble at Sagana, Joe’s car radiator started acting up and by the time we got to Karatina we couldn’t proceed without major repairs. The car was fixed and by 9 AM we headed to Nanyuki but more car trouble slowed progress; the alternator was barely charging the batteries for the Pajero and it was overheating. We had to stop again at Naru Moro. The car was fixed again but it was then noon and we contemplated calling off the visit because we had already inconvenienced the team. We soldiered on and got to Nanyuki at 1 PM and after a quick lunch we proceeded to Loisaba Conservancy, a 57,000 acre wildlife conservancy and cattle ranch, in the Lion Landscapes Land Cruiser accompanied by Will Woof, a volunteer from the UK. Car trouble hit again – Antonia’s car had a slow puncture just after BATUK and we had to change the tire and return to Nanyuki to get their other spare, which was being repaired. Just as we were approaching Nanyuki we had another tire burst. What a messed up day it was turning out to be! Antonia changed the tire in a flash just before I had finished snapping a few photos of her and updating Love Laikipia’s Instagram stories about our journey. She later told me she is used to tire bursts and doing minor repairs on the car because most of the time she would be all by herself in one of the vast conservancies in tough terrain and things were bound to happen. We got to the garage and Antonia picked up the spare tire but not before the mechanic told her that it was the last time that he would be repairing her extremely worn out tires. She took it lightly and said that they would be getting some new ones in the coming week.

The Trusty Lion Landscapes vehicle

Off we went to Loisaba Conservancy and during the long bumpy drive we saw tons of wildlife from elephants, zebra, buffalo, hyena and Joe was gasping while clicking away. The Nanyuki-Rumuruti Road, although rough and bumpy, put on a great show for us with all the wildlife on display and great views. We got to Loisaba Conservancy at 5 PM and we had less than 2 hours of daylight to meet the rangers and track some lions. The lion rangers had been waiting for us most of the day and it was such a relief when we finally met. We hit it off with Tom, Boniface and Peterson and I realized they came from my home area of Rumuruti, Laikipia a short distance from Loisaba. It was like a mini get-together of sorts. The team had been in constant communication and had a rough idea where the Victoria Pride of lions were located via GPS data from one of the collars and we headed to a quiet corner of Loisaba. The lions were on the move constantly and we initially hit a dead end when we got to the area and the handheld GPS device said the lions were about 1.9 Kms away. Tom used his VHF receiver and it indicated that it was up a rocky hill and even the old Land Rover stood no chance. Unfazed, we had to go back a longer route to get to the top of the hill, which took us almost 30 minutes with time not on our side.

The Lion Ranger team tracking Victoria

We sighted a temporary cattle boma along the way and the team inspected it and explained to the owner, Lembara a jovial Samburu herder, how best to protect his cattle with thorn bush and at what height it should be. Lembara, Peterson and Boniface made the necessary adjustments to his boma and we could feel their pride as they conversed in Samburu and finished the thorny upgrades. The rangers were all in unison that the best part of their job was imparting knowledge to the local community on how best to avoid conflict with large carnivores through preventive measures and understanding the long-term value of wildlife.

Boniface with Lembara

We were losing light fast and Joe Kiswili couldn’t hide his disappointment. The lions were now 300 meters ahead on rocky terrain and we could hear from Tom’s receiver the soft metallic sound the collar emitted as the lions moved ahead of us. The excitement was palpable as the Land Rover’s headlights helped us maneuver through huge rock boulders and nearer to the lions. It was now pitch black and the lions were only 70 meters away. I looked at the time it was 7.17 PM.

losing to the fading light

The rocky terrain got even worse and it was clear that the Victoria Pride were now resting just below the hill barely 40 Meters away. They had decided to rest and probably hunt later in the night, when not being followed by a bumping Landrover. I could almost smell the lions but we decided to call off the mission as it was deemed too dangerous to move on foot at night. Crushed we took solace that we had spent some quality time with the Lion Landscapes Rangers and experienced first-hand their work and challenges. We bid farewell to the rangers and headed back to Nanyuki and true to form the Nanyuki-Rumuruti Road came alive at night with lots of elephants along the way with one mock charging our car, a cute hyena puppy running ahead of us. Although my arthritic back felt like the end of the world due to the bumpy ride, the trip was worth it and I can’t wait to be back.

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