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One Of Kenya's Last Sanctuaries This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Kenya is a timeless and magical place with its people, sun-baked openness, wildlife and cultures, despite, at times, being chaotic and violent. But time is catching up with Kenya; the people are being corrupted by new technology, the sun-baked openness being consumed by overpopulation, the wildlife butchered for trinkets and age-old cultures being lost in mere years to a tide of cheap, plastic commodities. There is hope and a place where daily African plagues (such as over-development and exploitation) have their progress thwarted. That place is called Ol Ari Nyiro.

I was extremely fortunate to witness a rhinoceros translocation during spring break there. Ol Ari Nyiro is a 98,000-acre sanctuary of virgin land in the Laikipia plains in central Kenya. It is one of Kenya's last rhino refuges. In order to survive, Ol Ari Nyiro is a cattle ranch with about 6,000 head.

A few years ago, a young male rhino had wandered off the ranch. This put his life at risk from poachers of the Pokot tribe who live nearby. All efforts to try to return him to the ranch failed and a translocation (where an animal is immobilized and taken by truck to a different and safer area) was seen as the best alternative for the rhino.

The morning of the translocation was like many others in the Laikipia bush: cold and peaceful. I traveled with rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service (K.W.S.) whom I would stay with for the next three nights. Our headlights sliced through the moisture-laden air, mesmerizing many wild animals who stood in the middle of the road staring back.

Next to the Nairobi-Maralal Road was a small cutting in the bush called Muge Airstrip. The capture lorry (complete with a crate and a winch, donated by the New York Zoological Society), the K.W.S. landrovers, a light airplane and a helicopter assembled at Muge. In terms of logistics, this was a massive operation requiring a tremendous amount of organization, time and money.

The airplane looked for the rhino while trackers fanned the bush looking for fresh spoor. Once a visual sighting was made, the helicopter would take off and the rhino would be darted by the veterinarian. Then the helicopter would land and the vet would go to work while the other vehicles would charge through the bush to assist so that the operation would take as little time as possible. We were unlucky and did not sight the rhino that first day.

I returned with the rangers to the rhino "boma" (a Swahili word for enclosure), which was a mini-fortress constructed to contain the captured rhino.

The vehicles assembled at a water hole the next morning while the plane searched a new area. At lunch time the rhino was spotted. The helicopter came to pick up the vet who prepared the darts. The helicopter took off and our convoy of bush vehicles sped off, guided by the airplane. It was spotted again later in the afternoon and darted.

The rhino had collapsed in a bush which had to be chain sawed away. The vet, Dr. Koch, immediately went to work while others cooled the rhino by pouring water over it. The area was a beehive of activity. The crate was lowered, the rhino semi-revived and every single hand (well over 20) pushed or pulled the rhino into the crate. Three Samburu murran, warriors in full regalia also assisted. The rhino was trucked to our camp and immediately introduced to its temporary home. It was a magical experience watching him explore his new surroundings despite the fact he was to be temporarily held captive. He will diversify the gene pool existing at Ol Ari Nyiro. We slept outside the "boma" that night and in the morning I was awoken by voices. The rhino had broken its entire horn off during the night in its drugged and crazed stupor. Everything was covered in blood. It was is if the spirit of the rhino had been removed with the horn. It lay there dejected as if it were a king, thrown in a dungeon without his golden crown.

But soon the horn would grow back and he would be released into the sanctuary. I hope that one day I may be able to see that rhino again and that he may be preserved and cherished for my children. It will be difficult to preserve the infinite beauty and surging spirit of Africa, perhaps impossible at the rate things are deteriorating. Dedicated conservationists and areas like Ol Ari Nyiro are the key to preserving Africa's wildlife. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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