Meet Michael Dyer

MichaelDyerMsafiri talks to Michael Dyer about his safari camp and why tourism is vital for conserving Africa’s wildlife

Conservationist Michael Dyer runs Borana Lodge, a high-end safari camp built into the hillside on the wildlife-rich Laikipia Plateau. A third-generation Kenyan, who comes from a long line of cattle farmers and philanthropists, he is deeply committed to creating Africa’s largest rhino sanctuary and ensuring the survival of wild black rhino.

What distinguishes Borana from other luxury safari lodges?
The ranch has been in my family for generations. We’re a working cattle ranch and conservancy as well as a wilderness retreat. Beyond the game drives, we offer horse riding safaris and mountain biking. You have all the surrounding beauty and animals everywhere. Borana was the first eco-lodge in the area, but soon after we built it we made the wildlife our priority.

The illegal wildlife trade is decimating rhino herds in Africa – what is your experience of this?
Protecting them has become a military operation since we first introduced them in 1984. A few years ago, we lost 17 rhinos and a ranger in a two-year period and it got completely out of control. We lost one ranger in a shoot-out with cattle rustlers. Since then we’ve trained our frontline men.

Why did you decide to tear down fences and give up your family land for a global agenda?
Male rhino need about 3000 acres of territory. If they’re too confined, they get density-related stress and start fighting. We debated long and hard on how to create extra space and combined our land with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, so we now have 97,000 acres to create one big rhino sanctuary. We have about 65 rhinos and just over 100 armed rangers to protect them. They work in shifts around the clock and sleep rough in the bush at night. Even on their day off they’ll still be on standby ready to react. If you can look after rhinos, you can look after everything else.

Conservation is expensive and dangerous – have you ever had close encounters with poachers?
I’ve been shot at many times by both poachers and cattle rustlers. My plane is full of bullet holes. We’re fighting a full-on war. There’s too much money and too many people who don’t care. Rhino horn can sell for as much as US$100,000 per kilo and the market is driven mostly by China, Vietnam and Thailand because supposedly it cures everything. The war can’t be won unless there’s a cultural shift when commodities like rhino horn lose their desirability, and that can be done through education. We owe it to the next generation to do whatever it takes to get it right.

How do you balance the needs of wildlife and the wider community?
We hire local youths and train anti-poaching teams. We also employ teachers, fund schools and have bursaries for really bright kids to get them into universities in Nairobi or overseas. That’s going to be a game-changer for Africa. The other thing we invest in is health. Just giving women birth control and the choice if they don’t want to be pregnant for the rest of their lives. If we can help communities flourish, wildlife will survive alongside them.

Do you think encouraging people to go on safaris will help keep poachers at bay?
Tourism is critical for conservation as it brings desperately needed cash into wildlife areas and the community. If tourism continues to decline, conservancies will struggle to cope and support the people who’ve given their land over to wildlife and national parks so inevitably wildlife suffers as a result. Anyone who loves animals should come out to Kenya as it’s one sure way of helping to save them.

Visits to Borana Lodge are available through Aardvark Safaris (aardvarksafaris.co.uk / +44 (0)1980 849160) from £403 per person, per night, includes full-board safari, conservation fees, all activities and local airstrip transfers.