ol Donyo Lodge
ol Donyo Lodge is in the heart of the 275,000 acre Mbirikani Group Ranch, located on the slopes of the Chyulu Hills National Park between the Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks in southeast Kenya. Its location is unrivalled with full views of Mount Kilimanjaro and in the path of traditional wildlife migration routes. It is a lodge rich in history, passion and conservation.
ol Donyo Lodge’s founder Richard Bonham had often flown over this spectacular landscape but one day in the 1980s, he was moved to land his Cessna on the open plains and meet the local Maasai. That was only the first of many meetings, before the birth of a pioneering community conservation tourism project. The concept was simple: Richard brings guests to this remote group ranch to participate in safaris, and the Maasai share the benefits. But nothing in Africa is that simple, really. And so began a life-long relationship with the Maasai, the wildlife and the game ranch.
ol Donyo Lodge is a 20-bed lodge, rebuilt and redesigned in 2008, and perched on a hillside, with no two suites or villas the same. What is consistent is the attention to detail, the comfortable yet utterly luxurious décor and the tradition of greatness. Regarded as one of the most attractive lodges in East Africa, ol Donyo Lodge is a place to call home for as long as possible.
There is a range of activities available – from cultural visits, “Big Five” wildlife viewing and tracking, horseback riding and mountain biking – ol Donyo Lodge is a holistic experience
ol Donyo Lodge boasts a staggering array of activities in Africa. Included in the all-inclusive rate are:
- early morning and late afternoon/early evening 4×4 game drives
- bushwalks with armed guides
- half and full-day horseback safaris (with a choice of over 20 quality horses that suit all experience levels)
- guided mountain bike safaris
- visits to the open-air hide or “log-jam”
- romantic roof top “star-beds” sleep out experiences
- authentic Maasai cultural visits
- tracking with the Bloodhounds
The Maasailand Preservation Trust recognizes that for the Maasai residents of Mbirikani Group Ranch and the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem as a whole, the cost of living with wildlife exceeds the benefits. MPT therefore seeks to better balance the economics of everyday life for the local community and resolve human-wildlife conflict whenever possible. By contributing to the success of the Maasai people and their pastoral way of life – through economics, education, and ecology – the Trust, working in close collaboration with local stakeholders, seeks to stabilize and sustain the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and its irreplaceable biodiversity.
The Mbirikani Conservation Model
In 2003 MPT introduced and pilot-tested a one-of-a-kind conservation model on Mbirikani Group Ranch that is comprised of four major components:
- Predator Compensation Fund (PCF)
- Community Game Scouts
- Field research and additive conservation programs (Lion Guardians)
Predator Compensation Fund
In response to an imminent – and virtually certain – threat of local lion extinction, MPT, in close collaboration with the local community, conceived a first-of-its-kind predator compensation program in order to better balance the costs and benefits of living with wildlife and thereby replace conflict and retaliation with tolerance.
The success achieved by PCF in it’s first six years (2003-2008) is beyond anything otherwise known to the trustees of MPT in the field of wildlife conservation in Africa. Since inception, lion killing has virtually stopped on Mbirikani Group Ranch (MGR) within a Maasai community of 10,000 people. Only four (4) lions have been killed by livestock owners on MGR in more than six years while, during that same period, more than one hundred (100) lions have been killed on the neighboring group ranches that do not have the PCF program. The same MGR community that now protects lions killed twenty-two (22) individuals in just eighteen months prior to the introduction of PCF. The program requires the community to stop killing predators in return for receiving compensation for their depredated livestock.
In addition to lions, first and foremost, PCF also covers livestock losses from leopards, cheetahs, the smaller cats, jackals, wild dogs, and hyenas.
Community Game Scouts
MPT employs 65 local men as fulltime community game scouts. Each scout is in uniform and trained, linked to headquarters via radio communication, equipped for camping and patrols, and receives vehicle support. These men are deployed in various operating units to (a) combat poaching activities, (b) protect a rare black rhino population (between 12 and 15 individuals) still living in the wild, (c) resolve human-wildlife conflict, (d) keep river systems flowing, (e) provide general security, including anti-stock theft and protection of the indigenous forests, and (f) facilitate operation of the Predator Compensation Fund (PCF).
The threat to local wildlife of the game-meat trade (poaching) cannot be overstated. In the past eight years, MPT scouts have retrieved more than 5,000 wire snares and arrested more than 350 poachers, yet further manpower is required to address this ongoing and worsening crisis.
Human-wildlife conflict is the greatest single threat to sustainability of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. Predators killing livestock; elephants damaging crops and threatening human life; and wildlife, livestock, and agriculture competing for limited water sources are principal causes for conflict requiring ongoing and immediate attention.
MPT’s Wildlife Scholarship Program has to date sponsored in excess of one-hundred students in primary, secondary, and tertiary education through contributions from individuals. A contribution of $US 800 sponsors a student for a full year. Virtually all of these students return to their home areas to provide leadership and much needed skills and services.
MPT has facilitated the establishment of two primary schools and one boarding school on Mbirikani Group Ranch, providing education to in excess of three-hundred students per year. In addition MPT has constructed classrooms and renovated facilities for other schools on the ranch.
MPT sponsors seven government-certified teachers’ salaries annually and provides teaching aids, schoolbooks, sports equipment, and other educational materials for the benefit of local Maasai students.
An environmental education initiative, Environmental Scouts Program (modeled after the Boy Scouts of America), supplements inadequate government-based teaching curricula, and is aimed at local primary students in recognition that ultimately and without question the future sustainability of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem will be determined by today’s children. The challenge, of course, in the meantime is to stabilize and sustain the ecosystem until education can bear fruit.
Field Research and Lion Guardians
Working in collaboration with a team of field research scientists and graduate students under the banner of Living With Lions, led by Dr. Laurence Frank of the University of California at Berkeley, the conservation model incorporates a lion collaring and population study dimension with socio-economic research and synergistic conservation projects as developed.
Within the MPT conservation model, Living With Lions in early 2007 began to manage and extend a collaborative program called Lion Guardians (LG). The project employs young warriors on MGR who would otherwise have little chance of receiving wages and trains them to monitor lion movements across the group ranch in conjunction with scientists, using sophisticated tracking equipment, and to provide community services to minimize human-predator conflict, such as assisting in finding lost livestock before they are killed by predators, or helping to build better protective thorn fences around livestock enclosures. The Lion Guardians program also employs specially-produced films in the local Maa language to improve animal husbandry and further reduce conflict.
Cyrus Dar – Lodge Manager
Born in Kenya and raised in the UK, Cyrus always aspired to work in the African bush. After obtaining degree in Animal Behaviour (Psychology and Zoology) from Reading University, he worked as a scientist in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. He completed his Masters’ degree through Roehampton University in 2005, then went on to manage and guide at Jack’s Camp, also in Botswana. Four years later, he moved Abu Camp in the Okavango Delta and a year later joined the team at Great Plains Conservation.
Abi Ham – Lodge Manager
Born and raised in south east England, Abi’s passion for wildlife and travel started at childhood. She graduated from Bristol University with a degree in Zoology and her PhD thesis from the University of Sussex focused on bird behaviour, learning and memory. She spent a year on independent travel around the world before becoming a veterinary nurse at a small animal practice, and an Operations Executive at a toy company. Eventually her wildlife passion brought her to Jack’s Camp in Botswana as a safari guide, and afterwards to Abu Camp. Abi joined Great Plains in 2010 where she co-managers the lodge and works to advance the company’s sustainable conservation initiatives.
Anthony Nzaka – Chef
Anthony Nzaka is Kenyan born and raised. Trained as a professional chef, he has brought a wealth of culinary experience since joining Ol Donyo in 2003. Anthony ably prepares a delightful selection of gourmet meals infused with local ingredients and flavours for a taste of Africa. Whatever one’s dietary needs guests can rest assured that Anthony will cater to them and all with a winning smile.
Isaac Kariuki – Administration Manager
Isaac was born and raised in Kenya, and is trained in Computer Technology from the Kenya Polytechnic. In 2005 he joined Great Plains after several years of working in Nairobi city. Ol Donyo was his first bush lodge experience and before coming here, he had never even seen an elephant. His technology background supports his administrative functions at the lodge and he really likes his workplace that is surrounded by wilderness and wildlife. During his free time, Isaac enjoys playing volleyball and pool, reading, travelling and staying updated on new technologies.