SARARA’S COMMUNITY STORY
The Mathews Range, or Ol Donyo Lenkiyieu, was once renowned for its wealth of Elephant and Rhino, attracting explorers, hunters and writers from across the world to experience this dramatic wilderness. Approximately 4,000 Black Rhino, and 15,000 Elephant roamed the area, browsing back the vegetation and maintaining a grassland cycle that attracted a multitude of other life, including Buffalo and Lion. The surge in the international demand for Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn and the banning of hunting in 1997, created a highly tenuous environment for many key ecosystems and the wildlife across Kenya suffered. Without protection Elephant and Rhino numbers plummeted, and by the early nineties there were no Black Rhino left in the Mathews, and only around 400 elephant. This dramatic change cause a lot of damage to the surrounding ecosystem. With no keystone species to bulk browse the vegetation, the area moved from a grassland cycle to a woodland cycle leaving the area devoid of any wildlife due to the lack of grass and increased instances of drought. The land also became less and less productive for the Samburu and their livestock.
By 1995 the community conservation movement was starting to emerge in Kenya, and communities started to take on the idea that conservation could in fact improve their land and their livelihoods through conservation. Elephant started to return to the now secure and protected Sarara valley, and as they browsed the bush back and opened up waterholes and grasslands, other wildlife followed. The community in turn started to see tourism revenue through Sarara as travelers from across the world came to see their wildlife, alongside healthier pastures and water sources for their livestock . Fast forward to today and the Mathews Range holds up to 4,000 elephant. In 2018 poaching numbers were reduced by 90%, and 1,300 scholarships and bursaries were awarded! The story of Sarara has become a flagship model for conservation on community land across Africa, and continues to act as a model that improves livelihoods through the restoration and preservation of the environment.
THE SAMBURU PEOPLE
The Samburu people are of nilo-hamitic stock related to the Laikipiak Maasai. During the mid 19th century they controlled a very large tract of land stretching all the way from Lake Turkana to Ethiopia. As a result of subsequent clashes with the warlike Turkana and Purko however, they were forced to retreat south to their present day range. There are approximately 1,200 registered families making up the ‘Namunak’ community. Visits to local cultural villages may also be arranged, although we do please request that visitors do not take photographs as this changes the people’s lifestyle forever.
Equivalent to the migration in its uniqueness is this age old tradition of the Samburu people bringing their livestock to water in semi desert environment with an evening changing of the guard which sees wildlife pour in to use same water source. The singing wells offers our guests an experience that is completely unique. Every morning Samburu families take their family herd of cattle to the singing wells where they dig for water to fill up troughs to water their cows and goats. Each family owns one well and they sing to their livestock as they bring water up and the cows recognize their family song and come down to their well to be watered.
Sarara means meeting place in Samburu and at the singing wells all the different families from the area come t o meet and share stories and pass on messages as well as to water their livestock. Amidst the light, colour, dust, bells, singing, and naked Samburu, the scene is almost biblical in that it has remained unchanged for centuries.
A very rare and unique thing to see, the singing wells are not commercialized. No photos are allowed but visitors get a unique insight into what life of the Samburu is all about.
In the evening, elephant and the famous Sarara leopard come to the wells to avail themselves of this water supply in what is a fascinating example of humans and wildlife using the same water source. This is something you cannot do anywhere else in Kenya. It has never been photographed and has remained unchanged and unspoiled for hundreds of years.
Sarara was founded by third generation Kenyan’s Piers and Hilary Bastard. They partnered with the local group ranches in 1997 in order to bring locally owned tourism and revenue incentive that would drive forward the concept of sustainability for people and wildlife outside of the National parks and reserves of Kenya. Piers and Hilary’s close connection with the people of Northern Kenya, and celebrated history in the travel industry has allowed for Sarara to flourish as a flagship community driven conservation initiative.
Jeremy and Katie Bastard took over in 2010, and co-founded the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in 2016, along with the Sarara initiative – a program that has seen the construction of the community owned Sarara Treehouses, Reteti House and Samburu Montessori, in an effort to build sustainability for community owned conservation areas. Katie and Jeremy’s passion for North Kenya’s wildlife and people shows through in their wonderful story-telling, guiding, bush flying, wildlife care, and effective management style of complex community projects.
Robert Lemaiyan started at Sarara over twelve years ago. He was awarded a bursary through the Sarara Namunyak education program, and upon completion of his schooling he started work at Sarara as a general worker. He quickly worked his way up the ladder, from a room steward to bartender and waiter. He then trained up as a guide, and soon earned a great reputation across the country as one of the best. Robert is now the Lodge host and manager! His intimate knowledge of the Samburu culture, alongside his passion for teaching and conservation is something that all visitors should experience!