The head of anti-poaching at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya, Edward Ndiritu, has been honoured with the first ever Tusk Ranger award for his success protecting a population of critically endangered black rhinos. Spanning 250 square kilometres, the Lewa park is a refuge for 72 rhinos – 12 per cent of the Kenyan black rhino population. Its mosaic of savannah, forest and wetland also hosts Grevy’s zebras, lions, cheetahs and 9,500 migrating elephants. Under Ndiritu’s watch, Lewa was the only conservancy in the country with no poaching incidents last year.
“When I made a commitment to become a ranger and protect wildlife as a 23-year-old, I never imagined it would lead me to this”
While Cecil the lion has become the mascot for poaching awareness, it is black rhinos that are bearing the brunt of unlicensed shootings in Kenya. Since 1970, their populations have shrunk from 20,000 to around 540 individuals, a reduction of 97.6 per cent. Thought to possess unproven medicinal qualities, the value of rhino horn by weight has surpassed that of gold, diamonds or cocaine and has drawn the attention of international criminal gangs (see last issue’s Dossier for more details). As Africa’s poaching crisis reaches a peak, wildlife park rangers are increasingly recognised for the vital role they play in maintaining biodiversity and securing the future of some of the world’s largest mammals.
On receiving the award at a ceremony in London, Ndiritu said: ‘Being a ranger is very rewarding but it also has its challenges and is often dangerous. When I made a commitment to become a ranger and protect wildlife as a 23-year-old, I never imagined it would lead me to this. To all rangers across Africa risking their lives daily to protect endangered species, I hope this award motivates you all to know that the world appreciates our work and sacrifices.’
Lewa has many neighbouring rhino conservancies in Kenya. The work of Ndiritu and his team have been deployed to these other sanctuaries to lower the levels of poaching across the country.
This article was published in the February 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.