WhatsApp delivers Katie Rowe’s voice with some delay from Sarara Camp in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust in Kenya, where she lives with her husband Jeremy and three children, Saba aged six, Lokwe three and Lorien ten months. They took up the reins of this extraordinary place from Jeremy’s parents Piers and Hilary in 2013 and the current challenge is renovating the Camp after the first rains in the lands for 5 years. Wild flowers abound, roads have to be re-made as the rains have carried them away, animals flourish and nature breathes.
Sarara Foundation and Sarara Camp
Sarara Foundation and Sarara Camp work hand in glove with the Samburu, the indigenous people of this special place. Together, with a relationship built over many years on trust and respect, the Foundation and people have found a way to preserve this place, its wildlife and importantly the culture and way of life of the Samburu people. Speaking together in Swalhili and also in the Samburu’s local dialect Maa, they have developed a platform for both animals and people to flourish. Sarara has always respected the fact that the Samburu are never photographed, and the guests that visit the Camp are not allowed to photograph either people or place.
As Katie says, in our 21st century world we are used to recording our lives and what we are experiencing by iPhone shot, but at Sarara there is no need to show where you have been and what you have done, it is quite enough that you are given access to this special place just to be. The landscapes are vast and majestic. Sitting on a rock and watching a herd of elephants walk across the plane when they are like small dots on a blotter; and then seeing them at the watering hole in all their enormous size and majesty, gives an idea of scale, and an understanding of just how massive these lands are, and of how tiny human kind is in comparison.
Guests visit Sarara Camp from all around the world. Many of them revisit and most who visit Katie, Jeremy and the 150 guides and workers at the Camp that make the visits possible, come either as a referral or because they have been before.
DAY AND NIGHT SAFARI / GUIDED TRAIL RUNS
Guests become briefly a part of the place, and Katie says the Sarara Team see them shed their skin of 21st century cares and that after a couple of days they relax into the rhythm of the Camp and their surroundings. It provides an opportunity sadly normally missing in today’s life to reflect. When Piers and Hilary were running the Camp, it was the place chosen by Prince William to visit with Kate his then girlfriend, engagement ring in backpack and of course, the rest is history.
Sarara remains constant yet ever changing. In the past ten years Jeremy and Katie, working with the Samburu, have developed both Camp and Foundation with new initiatives which enhance the opportunities for the Samburu people to thrive and to remain in their ancient lands.
The Foundation has developed three Montessori nurseries for local children run by head teacher Judy. There is also a little school in Camp headed up by Miss Blessing, and attended by Jeremy and Katies’ three children as well as some of the other staff members’ children. In addition to this, there is a mobile medical centre that serves everyone in the territory, but the focus is on women and children.
The Camp has grown too with the build and development of the eight Sarara Treehouses that enable guests to visit and to experience these special lands from the lofty canopies of some mighty and ancient Nutonia Hildabrandai – Loimugi trees. This has also increased the numbers that can visit the Camp which funds the commercial operation and enables Jeremy and Katie to channel more funding into the Sarara Foundation; a not for profit which, working with the Samburu delivers on the new initiatives that improve the lives of those who live in these lands both animal and human.
NOMADIC MONTESSORI SCHOOL
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
And then there are the elephants…
These gentle giants are plentiful in these lands journeying across them to the watering holes that are found across the territory. The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is funded by the Sarara Foundation, but run and operated by the Samburu. A major problem is that the watering holes recede as the lands dry, so when the elephants come to drink the water is ever deeper within the holes. Five years without rain did not help. Unfortunately, the elephant calves stoop to drink and fall into the holes and can’t be retrieved. The Sanctuary now has the skills to rescue them and to reunite them with their mothers. If this is not possible, they are reared in the Sanctuary and then returned to the wild. Today there are forty three elephants being cherished at the Sanctuary waiting for their turn to return to their homelands. Normally they remain at Retei until they are seven years of age and mature enough to survive without the Keepers’ care.
The Sanctuary has learned how to recreate the properties of elephant’s milk using a combination of goats’ milk and camels’ milk, together with many supplements that give these young elephants a good start in life.
RETETI ELEPHANT SANCTUARY VIEWING DECK
RETETI ELEPHANT SANCTUARY
DOROTHY FEEDING A CALF
Alongside the Sanctuary is Reteti House. Another place where guests can stay and experience the rhythm of this place.
All these initiatives are undertaken in consultation with the Samburu whose lands these are. Sarara exists and thrives with their support and help – so it is a symbiotic relationship.
The WhatsApp line continues to crackle as I ask Katie what she loves most about the place. More delay on the line and she answers that it is for sure the relationship between the Camp and her family with the indigenous and special Samburu people with whom they share this place.
As the seasons turn and the project evolves, the push is now to build on and to continue with the important work of rewilding. Returning the elephants to the wild and working with nature and together, to ensure that these lands are not just preserved but enhanced and safe for the next generation and for all of those who will come after them. The line drops and the sounds of the life both human and animal stops too.
But in far off Kenya the business of Sarara, the Samburu and the elephants marches on…