The beautiful rugged country of Meru National Park in central Kenya, 200 miles north of Nairobi, is the heartland of the Born Free Foundation. With sprawling grasslands, acacia woodland and numerous streams, the 540 sq mile park is home to a myriad wild animals including elephants, rhino, giraffe and cheetah.
Meru has a special significance for the international wildlife charity: it was here that George and Joy Adamson returned Elsa the lioness to the wild. This true story was retold in the book Born Free, and the 1966 Oscar-winning film starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers – who went on to launch the Born Free Foundation with their son Will Travers. But today the wild lions living in Meru are under threat and as few as 40 remain.
Project Lion Rover
To ensure their future, the Foundation has launched Project Lion Rover, a major new conservation initiative with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the local community. Led by Victor Mutumah of Born Free Kenya and supported by Land Rover, the project supplies brave KWS rangers with off-road vehicles, clothing and tents, as well as vital equipment to monitor wildlife such as binoculars, GPS units and cameras as they carry out daily patrols in the park.
“We work closely with the KWS; they are the right and proper custodians of our wildlife,” explained Victor. “Community outreach is also vital to what we do, as we know we won’t succeed without engaging the people who live on the borders of the park.” In the past year the team has removed hundreds of deadly wire snares illegally set to capture ‘bushmeat’, as well as supporting the arrest of poachers and rescue of trapped animals.
De-snaring is important for lion conservation as it helps protect their natural prey species such as gazelle and antelope. The team’s hard work is paying off and there has been a remarkable reduction in the number of snares removed, but this is a long-term battle. And the team’s de-snaring work had a far more direct impact on lion protection when they took a shocking phone call. A young male lion had been spotted with a wire snare around his neck. Fortunately he was still alive, but time was of the essence.
“We’d saved many snared animals before,” explained Victor, “but never a lion.” After darting him they worked quickly. “To our relief the snare had not dug into the flesh and was carefully removed by the vet,” said Victor.
The thought of saving this beautiful creature gave the team courage to finish the mission and it was amazing to then see him rejoin his companions.
Outreach is a priority and Born Free works hard in Meru to develop relationships with nearby communities. The team talks about protecting Kenya’s wildlife and how to live alongside the wild animals that occasionally stray into their homesteads.
Visit www.bornfree.org.uk to find out more about this important project