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Trip Report School Conservation Competition - winners trip to Amboseli

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Australian Education Consultants
Born Free Foundation

2010 Conservation Competition

Two years ago, Born Free Foundation (BFF) produced 50 fibreglass life size lions and asked various corporate’s to sponsor artists to decorate them. Each Lion was to be part of the greater message about the plight of lions in the wild, and it was an educational “safari” that was displayed all over the metropolis of Nairobi.

Australian Education Consultants (AEC) jumped on the bandwagon with BFF and sponsored Shahi Raja who had been beautifully decorated by renown Kenyan Prathiba Shah.

The “safari” soon came to an end, and the public had been asked to send an SMS to vote for their favourite lion. In November 2009 a Gala Dinner was held at the KWS Headquarters at the main entrance to Nairobi National Park. Here the winning lion was announced and all the lions were sold at auction. Shahi Raja was voted to be the most popular lion in Kenya. AEC bought 5 lions – Androcles, Shahi Raja, Simba Status, Shop-a-lion and Mans Inhumanity to Nature, at this auction, supporting BFF and their massive efforts to conserve wildlife among them the lion.

The next question was, what were we to do with 5 life size lions? The message that these lions had sent out was for a few months. We wanted the message about the plight of lions in Kenya and Africa to continue for as long as possible. Being involved in education, and the best way to sometimes get a message across, AEC’s brainchild was to hold an annual conservation competition among high schools in Kenya. Partnering with BFF, AEC in 2010 launched a conservation competition among high schools, asking students to give entries that highlight the decline of lion populations in Kenya.

We received over 40 entries, which were of excellent standards. Judging was to be carried out by BFF and AEC. Judging was very difficult, but at the end several entries stood out. They stood out for the message they portrayed, and their depth of artwork.

The winning entry came from State House Girls School, as did the runner ups. The third prize went to Brookhouse International School.

Thanks to AEC, BFF, and Serena Hotels, the winning team was going to get to spend 2 nights in Amboseli National Park at the award winning Amboseli Serena Lodge and get to explore the park, as well as visit several of BFF’s projects in the area including a primary school and Lion Proof fenced Boma’s.

The message we all had wanted to send out to students had happened, and now 4 young ladies, their teacher, staff from BFF and AEC were all going to Amboseli National Park.

On Friday 27th May we turned up at State House Girls School with the BFF Land Rover, and the AEC Land Cruiser - both safari ready vehicles. With luggage piled in, we left at 7:00 am. The sun had just come up, and traffic was also on the rise. Up Mombasa road, through all the round abouts, it took us close to an hour to leave the bustle and pollution of Nairobi. Past Athi River, the Machakos turn off, through Sultan Hamud, we passed many trucks, matatus, piki pikis and cars. At Emali we stopped for a break, and then turned off towards Oloitokitok. The road was one of the best we had ever driven on in Kenya. We started seeing herds’ boys with their livestock, some plains game including zebra and Grants gazelle. Our safari had truly begun. After Kimana we turned right towards Amboseli National Park. The road become rougher and our driving slower. We ate lots of dust, but were loving it.

We arrived at Kimana Gate at 10:50 am. Nearly 4 hours after we had left Nairobi. Having paid our park fees to KWS, we were now in Amboseli National Park. As we headed towards Amboseli Serena Lodge, we passed herds of zebra, wildebeest, Grants gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, a flock of over 40 female ostrich, giraffe and elephant in the horizon, lots of birds around the grazers, and a very shy and cloudy Mt. Kilimanjaro.

By noon, we were freshening up with cold towels and fresh passion juice, while we checked in to The Amboseli Serena Lodge. Briefed on the lodge, we were shown to our rooms. What fabulous rooms they were. Large soft beds, veranda’s, comfortable bathrooms and appointed so well. We freshened up and headed off to the restaurant for lunch.

Serena feeds all their guest well. From fresh salads to wonderful hot dishes, tantalising deserts and heart warming soups. Service was so personal. We were well looked after and fed to our hearts contents.

After lunch we headed off to Ol Moti School. This is a community school that has been supported by BFF and Global Friends. It was a hot, rough and dusty drive there. Passing wild animals and young children walking home from school, herd boys and their animals, we made it to the school.

Ol Moti School was rebuilt by BFF and Global Friends. It is a primary school that has over 400 enrolled students from the local community. 100 are nursery school children who are taught in the local church, while the other 300 odd students are enrolled in Class One to Eight. The school has 6 Teachers Services Commission (TSC) teachers, one teacher paid for by the parents, and one teacher paid for by BFF. 8 teachers, no administrators, teaching 400 children. 154 of the students are boarders. What a mission. But there were smiles everywhere. The teachers looked very committed, and were very proud of the results the school had produced in the KCPE exams. We talked to Dan Kelek, who was the deputy head. The head teacher had travelled to try and secure funding for a school feeding programme.

The biggest hurdle that the school faces is feeding the students lunch. While there is a government initiative, the school struggles to get the funding.

We met with the students outside, and gave our small donation to the school of vital stationery supplies they needed. The students then sang several songs for us. After a few rounds of photographs on the ground, we had the students clambering all over the BFF Land Rover for more photos.

An hour and a half later we were off. The students from State House had seen another side of Kenya. A side that we are all shielded from living in our concrete jungle of Nairobi. The Masai students struggle. From a very young age, they walk for miles through the wilderness to get to school. What a determination they have for their futures. It is also commendable that the parents of the surrounding communities send their children to school.

That afternoon we talked as we drove back towards Amboseli National Park. We talked about our lives, and what privileges we have. We talked about what we all defined success as. This was all intertwined with some beautiful sightings of a snow capped Mt. Kilimanjaro, elephants wallowing in the swamps, and sightings of lots of plains game.

Stop. Is that a lions head we can see? Martin, who drove the BFF vehicle, through his knowledge of the area and understanding of lion behaviour had spotted two young male lions. They looked stuffed. They were resting. For the girls from State House, this was their first sighting of a lion in the wild. It was incredible. The adrenalin that was rushing through all of us was unbelievable. We moved on as we did not want to draw attention to ourselves and have hordes of safari vehicles (aka Safari matatu’s) descend on the resting lions and disturb them.

We were back at Serena by 6:00 pm. We were all very dusty and sweaty. It had been a glorious day. We headed off to our respective quarters and savoured the showers which refreshed us. As dusk set in, Kilimanjaro’s shroud returned for the night. Without light pollution we were treated to a spectacular sky full of stars, galaxy’s and constellations. For city folk this was a treat.

We had a fabulous dinner and relived our day. From the traffic on Nairobi’s Uhuru highway, to real Zebra crossings, to children who were determined to get an education, to teachers who genuinely cared, to seeing one of Kenya’s natural asset – Wildlife, we could not have asked for a better day. It was time to lala salama.

6:00 am in the cool morning air, we had steaming cups of tea and coffee, all set to leave at 6:30 am on our early morning game drive. The sun was just starting to peep from behind the hills. We stopped to savour an African sunrise, and within seconds the sun crept over the hills and the plains were bathed in a warm glow of soft sunlight. What a fabulous start to the day.

We drove around Amboseli, trying to spot the elusive predators. We saw Hyena returning from a night of scavenging. We saw once again plenty of plains game. Elephant in the swamp eating reeds. And several young bull elephant frolicking and rolling around in the water. It was incredible to see delicate ballet like moves from these huge beasts.

8:00 am, and our stomachs were rumbling. We headed back to the Lodge for a sumptuous breakfast. After breakfast, it was time for us to see the Lion Proof Boma’s.

We drove out towards the Ngito community. Here we met with some of the Masai men and elders from the surrounding area. They had their Boma’s set up. One had been “lion proofed”. A traditional boma is surrounded with a thorn branch fence. Unfortunately lions, and other predators sometimes find ways of getting inside, and kill the Masai’s livestock. For the Masai, their livestock is their livelihood. It is their life line and their assets. To have such losses is a huge set back.

The lion proof boma is a chain link fence that surrounds the thorn branch fence. It is around 8 feet high and very sturdy. The men told us how no predator could penetrate through this fence. We met the little children, who were bewildered to see us there. There was a lot of talk.

We were then reprimanded for not having told them we were coming, as they had not prepared any tea for us. We went to sit inside one of the manyatta’s, which was the kitchen. We were given stools and we chatted. We would have sat for around 45 minutes. One of the children had been sent off to the bush to find a herd of goats that would have been grazing. Some goats were milked and the milk was run back. Then tea was made. It was very hot, and sweet. It felt heavy and had a very smoky taste. It is a taste that one acquires. To ask for a half mug would be offensive, so we all graciously accepted our host’s hospitality and drank tea. What a wonderful experience. Once back outside we noted how much cooler it was in the manyatta. We took photographs with the children and headed back to our boma – The Serena Amboseli Lodge.

A quick shower and it was time for more wonderful food. We had lunch and all had a rest. Some by the expansive and inviting pool. Others back in our rooms. At 4:00 pm we met once again and headed out on a game drive. This time our destination was Observation Hill. This is a hill that you walk up, and soak in the 360 degree vista of Amboseli. Below us were swamps filled with elephant. We lost count at over 100 elephant. The view was breathtaking.

Another wonderful afternoon was spent meandering around the park. We searched for lion again but had no luck. At least we had seen them the previous day.

That evening we were treated to a BBQ dinner. Served under a million stars. There were also Masai dancers who entertained us. Exhausted we all retired to our last night in the bush, listening to Hyena cackling through the night.

On Sunday morning, we set off by 6:30 am. Lots of wildlife was seen. We watched some Thompson’s gazelle bouncing around. Some young elephant bulls play fight. We also had a fabulous sighting of a very clear Mt. Kilimanjaro with a herd of elephant in the foreground. Sadly our last game drive ended and we headed back for breakfast.

After breakfast, we had been invited by the lodge to plant some trees. It was explained to us that KWS had given the lodge additional land on the periphery of their existing fence. The fence was moved out, and trees were planted. A mixture of tree varieties are planted so that should one variety be destroyed by the elephants, the others still exist. The whole concept was amazing. We all planted our own tree and were given certificates.

Hands washed, we had some photographs taken by the Lodge Sign with Serena’s Born Free lion. Serena kindly packed for us boxed lunches for our journey home.

This time, we headed towards the Iremito Gate. Our exit was swift, but our departure was sad. We had all had such a wonderful experience. The hospitality of the people at Serena was so generous. The students and Masai we met had made us all more humble and appreciative of the lives we live.

We soon joined the main road back to Emali and watched the last of the dust that had clung to us from Amboseli blow back to where it had come from. A quick refuel in Emali and we hit the massive traffic jam of trucks in Sultan Hamud. Soon we could see Athi River and we were back into the hustle and bustle of Nairobi.

The girls were dropped back at State House, and reality set in. Some of them were to sit for an exam that evening.

The AEC and BFF Wildlife Conservation Competition for 2011 looks to be very promising. Details for this will be released very soon.

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