Ol Jogi, Kenya & Interview with Alec Wildenstein
Hidden in the Laikipia region of the Kenyan Highlands lays one of Kenya’s most prestigious reserves, Ol Jogi. The legendary estate is home to the Wildenstein family, and is hidden within 58,000 acres of the most dramatically beautiful landscape, teeming with wildlife roaming over the lush terracotta earth of the Kenyan Highlands. It also runs one of the most integrated and innovative wildlife conservation programmes to protect the numerous species, including Black and White Rhino, roaming the area.
This luxury retreat is spread over seven sophisticated cottages sleeping up to fourteen, enveloped in the landscape with sweeping views over a watering hole to Mount Kenya. The main house is the focal point for entertaining, where you can indulge in culinary experiences created by the resident French Chef or simply relax in the cinema room, Hamman or spa and yoga room. Ol Jogi is a mixture of refined elegance and a rustic chic influence of Eastern Africa. The thatched cottages reflect the style of the Maasai and Samburu villages that dot the landscape. The main house is infused with open living relaxed charm and decorated with eclectic elegance full of classically crafted furniture, antiques, fine art and sculpture and pieces of Africa with zebra skins and tribal art.
The main attraction lies in the magnificent wildlife and stunning scenery that encompasses the property with the beauty and soul of Africa. The land is home to large herds of elephants, antelopes, reticulated giraffe, Grev’s zebra, leopard, lion and cheetah as well as three species of primates and a myriad of bird species. However it is the rhino project that is particularly close to the mission of Ol Jogi’s conservation project, there are currently sixty-four black and white rhino that are monitored by the dedicated wildlife team.
Guests are encouraged to experience the magnificence of Safari, through game drives, nature walks or horseback safaris, steeping back in time and feeling echoes of the Out of Africa era riding through the vast plains of the reserve. To finish off a day of safari through the wilderness, a sumptuous meal can be served al fresco, watching the sun sink below the endless plains and eternal skies of this beautiful country.
As well as observing the incredible species that inhabit this land, guests can also get close to these beautiful creatures at the Wildlife Rescue Center. Located in 500 acres of the reserve, it was originally set up to care for orphaned or injured animals but was soon also a home for ‘problem’, or just disruptive, animals, such as a lion with a penchant for raiding cattle in surrounding communities. An intrinsic part of this centre is the Conservation Education Programme that hosts around 7000 school children per year to educate and let them experience wildlife and conservation. This is vital for the future generations of Kenya to learn about the important role of conservation in maintaining this unique ecosystem and the environment.
A Conversation with Alec Wildenstein of Ol Jogi
Completely to conservation, Alec explains of the property, ‘Ol Jogi’s first and foremost goal is the preservation of nature and wildlife. Ol Jogi does not make any profit on tourism or any other income generating activities it undertakes. Everything earned is directed right back into our conservation efforts. Our guests who come here can enjoy knowing that not only will they have an amazing experience, but they will also be contributing to a very important cause.’
We talked to Alec in depth about the outstanding and ground breaking conservation of Ol Jogi for a truly fascinating look at the work being carried out and his take on conservation in Kenya Today:
The conservation programme at Ol Jogi is unique in many aspects, such as the use of security dogs; tell us about the benefits of these measures.
‘The security dogs at Ol Jogi are one of the tools we use for the fight against poaching. In the late 1990’s Ol Jogi introduced the use of Bloodhound dogs as a means of sniffing out poachers and criminals. It has become so useful that many other wildlife conservancies, and even the Kenya Wildlife Service have followed in our footsteps. We are regularly called upon by our neighbours, local communities, and police stations to assist them in tracking criminals. Ranging from wildlife crimes, to thefts or missing people.
Security is the first thing that is needed in order for us to be successful in our mission. We need to make sure our wildlife is secure, but we also want the area our neighbours and us live in to be a peaceful one. Many neighbours and local communities benefit from the security that Ol Jogi provides, and this in turn leads to better livelihoods of people and wildlife alike.’
The Black Rhino has already become extinct in Western Africa resulting in increased poaching in areas in Eastern Africa. How does Ol Jogi combat the attack on their rhinos?
‘Amazingly enough, the biggest threat to rhinos is not poaching; it is lack of available space. Rhinos cannot survive in areas that are not protected. The current market for rhino horn has driven prices to a record high, and this in turn has increased the poaching levels to new heights.
Sadly, many ranches cannot or do not wish to have rhinos on their land. The reason being is that the amount of efforts, and subsequent funding necessary to monitor and protect rhinos has become unsustainable for most landowners. While other wildlife species are also a target, the poachers will not take the same risks as to when it comes to rhinos. So in order to protect most wildlife, a basic level of security is enough to deter opportunistic poachers.
When it comes to rhinos it is a different matter, the prices have risen so much that poachers are willing to take huge risks, and even put their own life in jeopardy in order to obtain rhino horn.
The amount of effort that is required to adequately protect rhinos is a deterrent for most wildlife sanctuaries. For just one additional species, the entire management of the sanctuary would have to change. A fence would have to be raised, an extensive security team would have to be hired, equipment for monitoring would have to be purchased, ground and air patrols would have to be done regularly, a daily monitoring system would have to be put in place etc.
All this comes with a huge amount of effort and cost. Simply put, most organizations cannot afford to fund all of this, for just one species.
The wildlife sanctuaries that are able to cope with all these requirements have mostly reached carrying capacity, and can no longer take on any more rhinos.
Ol Jogi is one of the few remaining wildlife sanctuaries that has not yet reached carrying capacity. It is also the most secure rhino sanctuary in Kenya, evidenced by the relatively low number of rhinos poached on the ranch, as compared to elsewhere. While the poaching is certainly taking a toll on rhino population, Ol Jogi has consistently seen its rhino numbers increase over the years. Our rhino population is thriving regardless of the pressures and difficulties we face.’
What do you feel are the best methods for the future of conservation in the face of poaching and other factors such as climate change?
‘In my opinion it comes down to proper management and education.....
Through education, more and more people will come to realize the importance of preserving nature and wildlife. Today, there seems to be a lack of respect from so many people who disregard nature and animals as something that should be kept in zoos or parks, and that only comes secondary to human development. Through education people can learn about the importance of preserving these elements. Through education they can understand the careful balance that is required to sustain life, including ours. There are consequences to disrupting this balance, and we are just starting the see the results of this through global warming, increased pollution, lack of available water, and many other signs. So education is crucial in order for us to better understand the repercussions of our own decisions and actions, and the long-term effects that they have.
Proper management of nature and wildlife is essential also. Most people tend to think that you can just leave nature to take its course, and all will be well. This is far from the truth. In order to keep an area preserved in its “natural state”, a lot of active management has to happen. The reason for this is that we have already upset the balance of things, and therefore active management needs to counter those effects. To give some examples of this – human overpopulation is one of those imbalances, and while humans are taking over more and more of the fertile land, and increasing their needs for food and water, wildlife is being pushed further and further away into areas where traditionally there wouldn’t have been as many. This increases the pressure on the land, on the water resources and on the available plants and food. Without management, protected areas would suffer from this “artificial” pressure and would not be able to evolve in a sustainable manner. Through active management we are able to counter the effects of these unbalances that were created by us in the first place.
Another example of necessary management is invasive plant species. Because in the past, humans have introduced new species of plants into areas where they never existed, some of those species have been allowed to run loose and are taking over the vegetation that is endemic to that area. This is changing the landscapes in certain areas, more often for the worse. Without human intervention, soon the nature we once knew would get replaced by an unnatural ecosystem. This in turn has many other repercussions on the life that can be sustained in that area. Again, active management is able to counter these effects and preserve the land.
Ol Jogi is a very unique property, what special experiences can your guests expect on safari and within the house?
Other than the unique terrain, the amount of wildlife, and the comforts of a private home, what makes Ol Jogi different from any other wildlife sanctuary in Africa, is that a family or group of friends can take over the entire ranch for themselves. No white mini-buses filled with tourists, no other people for as far as you can see. We offer an experience, far from the “tourist traps” that have become so common when taking a safari. We offer an experience that is authentic, and allow our guests to have the freedom to do what they wish. You won’t feel like a tourist when you come here, you’ll feel like it’s your home.
Ol Jogi is also great to use as a base in order to explore northern Kenya, ideally by helicopter or airplane. The diverse scenery around Ol Jogi offers some great escapes for the adventurous. Fly a half hour to the west and you will find yourself watching the largest population of pink flamingos in the world! Twenty minutes flight to the south brings you to the glaciers of Mt. Kenya. The opposite direction will take you to the Great Rift Valley, its sand dunes, volcanoes and unusual lakes. The Mathews Range in the north is another stunning region. These are still very wild and undiscovered areas, representative of the vast diversity that Kenya has to offer, and that few people really get to know.
Ol Jogi can also cater to any special requests or interests a guest may have. Want to learn the art of rock climbing? We’ll get an instructor here to teach you, on some of the unique rock “kopjes” found on the property. Maybe your interests are in geology or wild plants, through our network of experts we can organize for them to be here and explain these fields in great depth. Perhaps you are an avid wine connoisseur; we’ll bring in a sommelier from France to tempt your palate in a different manner every evening. Basically no request is ever too high for us. With enough notice, we can organize anything that you can think of. The possibilities are endless when you have an entire 58,000 acres of pristine nature, entirely to yourself.
Exclusive use of Ol Jogi is offered year-round from US$210,000 per week based on a maximum of 14 guests staying. This is inclusive of all accommodations, meals, drinks, alcohol and fine wine, activities, spa treatments, Wi-Fi, taxes and gratuities.
Photos Courtesy of Ol Jogi
Words by Electra Gillies