In London, a “morning run” could involve running along the Thames, crossing Tower Bridge to get on the other side of the River, jogging to Westminster, and then crossing back and heading through Borough Market to the pub for a pint (it’s 17:00 somewhere).
At Lewa, when the sun is still low, elongated shadows drown the blank canvas of the Conservancy’s grassy hillsides. Grévy’s zebras and reticulated giraffes fixate on something moving towards them, their eyes and ears locked. Once they realise it is the familiar sight of Lewa’s ranger team out for their morning 7km, they lower their heads again and continue with breakfast.
This routine starts at 06:30, when the team meets outside the ranger outpost. A quick stretch in a semi-circle starts things off, along with a brief chat, and it’s time to head off for a jog. The shaded outpost in the acacia woodland soon gives way to open grasslands, but the team sticks close together in formation on winding tracks. In London, runners fear the trivial: a hidden tree root or an impatient motorist. On these grasslands, there’s not a lot between you and a bitter boomslang or a frustrated bull elephant. But it is a spectacular place to be. The air is as dry as the ground is, and the wildlife that crosses your path is right at home.
Much of the ForRangers Ultra’s route passes through Lewa, and it is thanks to the funds raised by Ultra participants that the Conservancy’s ranger team can continue to function as it does. In fact, they have been able to carry out morning runs in more comfort, with 150 pairs of new tracksuits, 150 pairs of sports shorts, 150 pairs of trainers, and 150 running t-shirts. This kit has been vital for the team as they partake in not only runs, but extensive physical training sessions including three gym sessions per week.
Joseph Piroris, Head of the Canine Unit and third in charge of Lewa’s Anti-Poaching Team, summed up what this new gear has achieved:
“Amongst [the] many other things ForRangers does for us, this year the [organisation] has bought us tracksuits, shorts, t-shirts, and sports shoes. This is making our lives very comfortable in terms of training [exercises]. We are training with a lot of ease and comfort, and it’s really motivating the rangers to do what they are supposed to do. We thank [ForRangers] for supporting us and the impact [it has] had on us for many years. Thank you so much!”
In addition to this exercises, the teams also participate in tactical training courses to aid anti-poaching operations. Snake-awareness courses also minimise dangerous encounters with venomous snakes and ensure the rangers know what to do if one of them is unfortunate enough to be bitten. These courses are run by the Taylor Ashe Antivenom Foundation, another of ForRangers’ grant recipients.
And such efforts have been paying off. Poaching on the landscape remains extremely low and most of Lewa’s key species are increasing in number. The Lewa-Borana Landscape (LBL) is now home to 11% of the global population of Grévy’s zebra, and rhino numbers have bounced back too, with black rhinos seeing a 7% growth rate in the population during 2022. Furthermore, no rhinos have been poached on the Conservancy – or the entire LBL for that matter – since 2019. But it is vital not to become complacent.
The team must contend with many issues in this landscape: Human-Wildlife Conflict exacerbated by prolonged droughts (thankfully alleviated due to heavy rains in November-December 2023); and attacks on the rangers themselves by would-be poachers and Lewa’s own wild inhabitants. During the first half of 2023 alone, four of Lewa’s rangers received minor injuries after encountering animals. They received medical attention when necessary and all have since recovered and returned to work.
Working long hours across great distances is a challenge for the teams. Rangers must maintain their fitness levels in this landscape, not only to carry out their duties but also to keep themselves safe. Ensuring they have comfortable kit to train in, to maintain and build up their fitness, is the first step towards that endeavour, and it is thanks to ForRangers’ donors and Ultra runners that this has been possible. Thank you!