We have now marked over two months without a single guest in any of our properties following the global spread of COVID-19. Currently, Kenya’s borders remain closed until the 6th of June for international travellers. We hope that this date marks a light at the end of this most challenging tunnel and that we can finally look forward to the re-opening of the tourism industry; just in time for the onset of the famous wildebeest migration season! It certainly hasn’t been easy for the majority of people around the world and with each passing month our local community neighbours in both Rwanda and Kenya have struggled more than ever to provide the basic supplies for their families. When people are forced to focus purely on basic survival, they tend to put additional pressure on natural resources as they turn to surrounding ecosystems and wildlife to sustain themselves. You can read more about some of these challenges in our last month’s blog.
We are launching an emergency fundraising appeal to provide support to as many of the community members as we can. If you are in a position to help and would like to do so, then we would be most grateful for donations to be made through our secure online payment link. Any donation, however big or small, will go a long way in helping the community get through this time of hardship. We thank you wholeheartedly in advance for your assistance.
Mara Rianda Community emergency food drive, Masai Mara, Kenya
Our Masai neighbours rely heavily on income generated from tourism. Many people work in the various safari properties dotted across the Masai Mara which are now temporarily closed, others are landowners who usually receive a steady income from leasing their lands out to the wildlife conservancies which surround the National Reserve, and others rely on money earned from social enterprises such local village tours or by selling their beaded wares to tourists. Without tourists, most of these incomes have almost completely dried up.
Masai women selling handicrafts – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Through our community liaison officer, we have been kept updated to the needs of the Masai families living in Mara Rianda village. The main challenge at this time is for the breadwinners to provide basic food supplies to their families.
Masai villagers – photo credit Julius Karia
As part of our overall fundraising campaign, we hope to raise USD 6000 to supply 200 households (approximately 1000 people) with basic food supplies, face masks and hand washing soap to last for the next 24 days.
Inside a traditional Masai manyatta – photo credit Julius Karia
All monies received will be used directly to help alleviate these current pressures. The supplies will be purchased within the village in order to support small businesses and Governors’ Camps will facilitate the purchasing and distribution of the same. Please quote Mara Rianda on your donation reference if you wish to directly support the food drive.
Mama Speciose house building project, Kinigi, Rwanda
Recently some of our Sabyinyo lodge staff approached us with a wish to help Mama Speciose (a neighbour) improve her house, which was in a terrible state of disrepair.
Mama Speciose’s house – photo credit William Karoki
They also provided us with her personally told story:
“My Name is Nyirakazindu Speciose, aged 49, widowed mother of 6 children aged between 6 and 29 years. My husband passed away 5 years ago after engaging in a fight in a local bar. The land that we live on is rented to us through the Government leaders’ agreement for as long as we live at a fee of RWF 5,000 (USD5) per month. My children and I depend on casual labour work in the fields in exchange for food and clothing. With the little money we get, we manage to pay the rent and some school requirements for the younger children. We have lived on the same farm for 20 years after being evicted from the forest. Life has become so difficult and is even more so especially during this hard time of the epidemic. So, to me it’s like a dream come true having been approached by Sabyinyo Lodge staff members with an idea of supporting me to reconstruct my house. We have been living in this shanty single room with open walls and leaking roofs for many years. I would like to say thank you, thank you, Murakoze, Murakoze to everyone who has shown an interest in supporting me, I am really humbled”.
Inside Mama Speciose’s house – photo credit William Karoki
The pictures and her story were a great cause for concern to us, so we have immediately begun work on rebuilding the basic structure for her using our own materials and our team of staff as the workforce. The local community have also been a wonderful support and have helped carrying materials up to the site.
Re-building the house – photo credit William Karoki
We would like to try and raise USD700 within the next ten days in order to turn this new structure into a home for her. We need to buy cement to plaster the walls; planked timber for making doors and windows; and will need to employ a couple of builders to help put it all together. We would also like to give her some basic furniture.
If you feel moved to help Mama Speciose, a donation would be gratefully appreciated via our secure online payment link. Please quote ‘Mama Speciose’ as the donation reference.
If you would like to learn more about either of the above projects you can contact me.
This month we would like to highlight the important work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) who are the largest and longest-running organisation fully dedicated to gorilla conservation. Mountain gorillas have been pushed to the brink of extinction due to a combination of factors including habitat degradation, political instability and human encroachment. However, thanks to decades-long work by the DFGF, park authorities and other vital parties such as Gorilla Doctors, the fragile population of these fascinating animals has stabilised and they are in fact the only great apes in the world with an increasing population.
Mountain gorillas – the only Great Apes in the world with an
increasing population – photo credit Thor Karstad
The DFGF employ multiple techniques to ensure the continued survival of the gorillas and their habitat, including daily direct observation of gorilla families, long-term community involvement via outreach and education programs, and frequent dedicated anti-poaching patrols within the forest to seek out and guard against any illegal activities. Today, DFGF trackers and researchers protect and study roughly half of all the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, with the other half protected by the park authorities (Rwanda Development Board).
Mountain gorilla – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Back in late March, the Rwandan government made the prudent decision to stop all recreational visits to the mountain gorillas. As noted on the Fossey Fund response to the Novel Coronavirus page: “It is not known if gorillas are susceptible to COVID-19. However, given that they share such a high percentage of our DNA and are susceptible to other human respiratory viruses, the most appropriate approach is to assume that they would be affected by COVID-19 and put in place appropriate measures to limit any transmission while also continuing to ensure their protection. Our trackers are considered essential and so are still out in the field monitoring every gorilla under our care. In addition to continuing our daily health checks, wearing face masks, and limiting our time with the gorillas to a quick confirmation that they are all present and healthy, all trackers are working in two-week rotations so that while they are on duty, they are isolated from the larger community. The good news is we have been able to keep up with all the gorilla groups we were monitoring before the appearance of COVID-19 and they are doing well. The trackers are also doing well and are in positive spirits despite the new challenges they face”.
If you would like to learn more about the important work that the DFGF team carry out or make a donation that will directly impact the continued long-term survival of the mountain gorillas, you can do so via their website.
By Alisa Karstad, Community and Conservation Manager for Governors’ Camp Collection.