September 20, 2021

Running Wild: The Race to Save Africa’s Natural Heritage

                   Running Wild: The Race to Save Africa’s Natural Heritage

As you drive north from Nairobi, Kenya, after two hours you start to see Mount Kenya in the distance, the second highest mountain in Africa. You then drive around its western edge, crisscrossing a recently restored railway track, passing through the bread basket of Kenya and leave the mountain behind you.

A cloudy view of Mount Kenya

Now you are heading towards the grasslands and arid terrain of northern Kenya, dominated by pastoralists, nomads, and small villages where you can eat meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in the direction of Ethiopia.

A Story of Struggle & Endangerment

This is a vast area that struggles to provide quality education, health or food for its peoples, and one that is populated by various nomadic pastoralist communities. It is an area where cattle are critical to life, and where grasslands and vegetation—the source of food for the cattle as much as for the people—can be scarce in the best times let alone the changing climate of today’s times. Northern Kenya is where you find critically endangered black rhino, the endangered Grevy’s zebra, as well as the elephant, lion, giraffe, wild dogs. Below are some of the images I’ve managed to catch.

Grevy’s ZebrasAfrican ElephantGiraffe

Then you turn left off the main highway, and enter Lewa Conservancy, which has pioneered community-centric conservation methods alongside sustainable management of private and community lands. As you enter the gate you pass the headquarters of the Northern Rangelands Trust, which has 39 community conservancy members covering 42,000 square kilometres, watch wildlife across the vast empty savannah through your window, and drive to the headquarters of the Conservancy.

Usually at this time, the end of June, you would also see tents, athletes, a stage, and a start line as over a thousand runners and thousands more spectators from local communities, and around the globe, come to watch one of the most spectacular running events in the World – one where you see giraffes, helicopters (to watch out for more dangerous wildlife), and rangers as well as the usual volunteers.

Me practicing selfies at the beginning of the 2019 Lewa marathon

Source: Adam Lane / Running a marathon is no excuse not to film the wildlife

This year, like last year, this will not be the case due to the pandemic. It is not just the race (which has helped raise US$7 million since 2000) that has been affected. Tourism numbers have collapsed, affecting revenue that helps sustain jobs and whose profits support the activities of Lewa Conservancy and many others, which include

Protecting wildlifeSustainably managing the environmentSupporting neighboring and nationwide communities with education, healthcare, and water initiatives.

Combined, the race and tourism contribute almost half of Lewa’s budget each year, alongside other donations and institutional support.

I have run the race a few times, and this year, as with last year, I will be running in Nairobi as part of the Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon (you too can sign-up and make a voluntary donation alongside your 5 km, 10 km, 21 km or 42 km run). I have also visited the conservancy several times to see the conservation and community projects that happen there, partly due to the US$1.2+ million that Huawei has contributed over the 13 years we have supported the event. During my visits I have of course been awestruck from being a few metres away from rhinos and lions in their natural habitat.

Video source: Adam Lane / Lions in the Grass

I have not only come away inspired, but also learned several things, including the importance of supporting local communities around conservancies who are key partners in conservation, the incredible use of technology in monitoring the locations of wildlife that are being tracked and responding to issues immediately, the fascinating role of community conservancies and private conservancies alongside national parks, and of course plenty of information about the wildlife itself.

In Recognition of Those on the Frontlines

The lasting feeling I have had from these visits has been of the people that work at the conservancies: they’re truly on the frontline of conservation, walking and driving long distances every day, and rarely seeing their families. During the pandemic, the concept of frontline workers has entered our daily vocabulary. Whether they’re working in agriculture, healthcare, transport or telecommunications and so on, without them and their sacrifices, we would barely have made it.

For those at the frontline of environmental conservation, their importance may in some ways be even more important than others at the front line for the simple fact that once critically endangered wildlife are gone, they are gone forever. Even if populations decrease, it can take decades and tremendous resources to restore them, and their ecosystems that they depend on. To take just one example, it is quite astounding that Lewa’s rhino population has increased from 15 rhinos in 1983 to 169 rhinos today with 0 incidents of rhino poaching in 2020. They have even translocated 54 rhinos to other conservancies.

Every time I meet the rangers and the other staff at Lewa, I am inspired by their dedication to their cause and their perseverance during the pandemic. I am so thankful for what they are doing, and I will be thinking of them when I am pounding the streets at the weekend.

Further Reading

Don’t miss these stories under our digital inclusion initiative TECH4ALL of how Huawei and its partners are using technology to help safeguard biodiversity around the world.

The Return of the Big Cats Protecting Wildlife in Greece with a Shield of SoundTurning the Tide against Threats to Ocean Life

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