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“Ol Jogi is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It provides the ultimate outdoor experience in an exclusive setting that was once a private family home. Today, it is unsurpassed in terms of comfort, culinary excellence, luxury, privacy and education. It is a place unlike any other in the world…….breathtaking beyond words.”
It was her dream. To go to Africa. To save the animals. It’s every child’s dream. But for all children of the world time is running out. It was her mission. In five short years, our daughter Colette, shortly before she died, conveyed her wishes to create a special christmas tree made of recycled wood. And on each branch would hang a small wooden animal. Ones that were most endangered. Instead of receiving gifts, children would ask their parents to support and protect their favorite animal.
Children identify with their own vulnerability through the observation of other species that share the same needs.
“Every 20 minutes, the world adds another 3,500 human lives but loses one or more entire species of animal or plant life at least 27,000 species per year.”- PBS
According to the World Wildlife Fund at the present rates of extinction, as many as 20% of the world’s 715 million species could be gone in the next 30 years.This rate of extinction has been unprecedented since the disappearance of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Traveling throughout South Africa gave us “the journey of a lifetime.” We had visited some of the most beautiful parts of the country and stayed in magnificent hotels and reserves. We followed Nelson Mandela’s path and Long Walk To Freedom from his imprisonment on Robben Island to his treasured Zulu Camp and former home. Met with some of the most dedicated conservationists to learn more about the plight of some of these species and spent time in the bush observing how some thrive under very protected circumstances.
From Nairobi Kenya we boarded a small aircraft and flew to our final destination. Ol Jogi, is a 60,000 acre private game reserve dedicated to the conservation, rehabilitation and protections of the Northern White and Black Rhino.
Originally, a private estate of the Wildenstein family whose wealth catapulted others with equal fortune to discover the unbridled African wilderness, not to abuse but to honor the God given beauty and habitat of those treasured animals whose dominion on this earth has become a fatal path of no return.
Today, the safety net and responsibilities to upkeep and conserve Ol Jogi from its predators both human and animal, belongs to its heirs, Alec Wildenstein Jr.and his sister Diane who along with Wildlife and Security Manager Jamie Gaymer takes this matter very seriously.
A Special Interview With Jamie Gaymer
“Kenya has lost 50–70% of its wildlife since 1980 & mostly through habitat loss and bush meat poaching. Ol Jogi has developed the only sustainable model in Kenya that strives to release indigenous wildlife orphans back to the wild in a responsible manner and only when circumstances allow.” JG
NGC– What is the current plight of the rhino population in Kenya?
JG– The official figures for 2016 have not yet been released and I can only therefore quote those released at the end of 2015 as follows:Eastern Black Rhino’s: 678, Southern White Rhino’s: 441, Northern White Rhino’s: 3 (the last remaining 3 of this sub-species in the world) Kenya does seem to have turned the corner in 2016. Contrary to the continental trends in rhino poaching, Kenya seems to be the only country that has significantly reduced poaching & resumed positive growth.
NGC– What role does Ol Jogi play in protecting the rhino and other endangered species?
JG– We employ in excess of 110 persons in the security department and we currently have ~30 Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) personnel in situ to provide additional support. There are now 5,250 Black Rhino’s in Africa. There are only 886 “Eastern” Black Rhino’s (Diceros bicornis michaeli) that we host at Ol Jogi. There were estimated to be in excess of 20,000 in 1970!
We currently have in excess of 400 Grevy’s zebra with a global population estimated between 2000 & 2,500. Of more significance is that we now host the largest single population of the planet!
NGC– You have developed a very unique method of protecting the rhino’s… tell us about it.
JG– Ol Jogi’s fence is porous to all species with the exception of rhino’s (using an innovative design of rhino-proof wildlife corridors). Whilst the wildlife can therefore come and go as they please (thus ensuring genetic diversity, utilization of historic migratory routes, utilization of seasonal pasture etc), the security afforded to our rhino’s generally encourages wildlife to seek refuge within Ol Jogi from the persistent threats that they endure outside of our perimeter.
NGC-How effective is your conservation methods and has this become a collaborative effort?
JG–Despite the incessant threat of poaching for our rhino’s, we have not lost one to poaching since “Friday” March 13th 2015 (touch wood). We have had 11 rhino births in 2015 and 5 in 2016 despite a few natural mortalities. This has rendered us positive growth rates on 2 consecutive years above the 5% strategic requirement. One could therefore argue that our conservation methods are effective.
NGC– Explain how Running For Rangers has impacted and influenced others to develop similar strategies?
JG-We have recently changed the “Running for Rangers” name to “For Rangers” after 2 ladies rode horses in the Mongolian Derby (and fundraised for us) as well as 2 guys who kayaked 1,600 kilometers down the Yukon.
Of significance however, over and above the benefits directly afforded to the rangers themselves, is that we are now generating economies of scale on bulk purchases for several conservancies. This is basically ensuring better efficiency of conservation money that would otherwise be lost.
NGC-Every cent that is spent through tourism benefits your conservation efforts.. explain how this works?
JG– All revenue generated are currently reinvested into our conservation and educational outreach programs. The balance is still contributed by the directors.
NGC-You and your wife Carol have undertaken quite a major responsibility. As Warden you oversee the operations of the conservancy as well as patrolling the 60,000 acres… however, your most important mission is the raising of your two daughters. How has this experience impacted them? It must be a very difficult balancing act for you personally.
JG-There is no doubt that this is a beautiful place for my daughters to grow up. The air is clean, we are surrounded by wildlife, beautiful vistas, great people & cultures. They have space galore & it all seems to be a match made in heaven. I think that the greatest sacrifice is that despite all of this & that I am lucky enough to share this with them, the rhino poaching crisis has neglected me time with my family. We are stretched to our capacity to ensure the safety of these animals and I am often spending long hours away from my family. I hope that my daughters forgive me and are proud that I made a difference (no matter how small) to leaving them a world that is somewhat better than it might otherwise have been.
Our 3 days at Ol Jogi was an immersion that can’t even be described without the visceral memory of sight, sound, smell and taste. From our humble greeting by Francis, a warm and highly enlightened member of the staff whose Kenyan history abounds and whose dedication to Alec’s vision profoundly prepares one for the entrance to the jungle Tarzan never knew and perhaps Jane Goodall needs to see. From out of the wild stretch and bumpy road, typical of most African safari entrances, we were greeted by an abundance of flora and then dropped into a panoramic expanse and view of a watering hole teeming with life; giraffes, zebras impalas, elephants… almost in Kodak perfection, soaking up the sun and drinking in quest of thirst.
This view of a lush green veranda surrounding the human meeting hole, as I referred to it, defines the natural boundary in which man and animal should dwell. However, in this private setting, almost fairy tale by definition, you are living life in full Kodachcrome. It is a rare vision where time stands still.
As guests of Ol Jogi, every morsel of beautifully prepared and plated food is a vision. Under the gastronomic genius of resident chef, Sylvain Bel, whose history dates back to the early origins of Alec’s family, once chef to Rothchild’s, guests experience a cornucopia of the freshest food, fish, beef, chicken, all raised in the self-sufficient organic compound and presented on legendary porcelain designed exclusively by Christian Dior, Hermés… and the thin stemmed wine glasses are from Cartier. From silver hand polished daily and designed by Buccellati.. every meal is a wonder. Whether served in one of the elaborate dining rooms or the open aired veranda area, the service and the food top any Michelin starred restaurant or chef for that matter.
Photography by Stevie Mann
On our last night, Alec promised we would dine out. He mischievously convinced us that we would be dancing and dining at a local casino but instead re-routed us further into the starry-night, deeper into the bush only to discover a private entrance (likened to the enormous palm fronds covering the gates in the movie King Kong) to yet another exquisite enclave… a total sumptuous surprise, a dining table laden with even more silver, ice and chocolate sculptures of monumental design, and behind the magic of the night is the awaiting feast and conversations about how passion turns privilege into wonderment for all things alive. And how each day at Ol Jogi is never like the one before. For the animals this reserve collectively is fulfilling a need for humanity. It is preserving the treasures of life. The only danger that persists is the right of each animals natural Darwinian need to survive. Big and small they have an innate purpose. Each one feeds a symbiotic necessity to the other.
Some mate for life others disperse and rekindle elsewhere. We were there to observe the delicate balance that lies between us all and more importantly crave and demand that this balance not be interrupted by the insanity of man.
As the night air cooled, we could hear sounds of nocturnal animals scampering on foot. And in total darkness, we observed their eyes, reflecting the light in fright and in fear, some barely asleep while standing on all fours. All were aware of their own unpredictable destiny. Like us, invading their world protected by a large vehicle on a very bumpy road….there is never that assurance.
A Tunnel Takes You By Surprise
Those individuals who have had near death experiences, claim that they have experienced a light at the end of a very long tunnel. This light supposedly captivates each soul to follow an unending ascension into the unknown. At Ol Jogi, the near life experience and perhaps the most unique and exciting feature, is a brilliantly constructed unobtrusive underground tunnel which begins steps away from the bar room. A short winding staircase takes you to a longer, narrower path which, at its very end, reveals a window into their world; a zebras hoof or air engulfed from their acute nostrils can pick up the human scent…they are aware you are watching them.
Another aspect of Ol Jogi which is worth more than the charitable contribution to the conservancy, is the exclusivity and privacy. You live with the animals you don’t safari to see them.
Ol Jogi has become the only place in the world where money can provide major changes. Wildenstein is determined to leave an indelible footprint for future generations to come. It is his personal mission to transform the way wealth can leave an everlasting legacy of hope by trading despair and futility for human kindness for the preservation of all. In partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Services this is a force poachers fear and rarely as of late dare to tread.
Photography by Durston Saylor
Photography by Durston Saylor
To visit Ol Jogi Conservancy contact Carol Gaymer at [email protected]
A special thanks to our hosts Alec Wildenstein Jr. and Carol and Jamie Gaymer. And to Ol Jogi’s incredible staff, Francis our driver and chef Sylvain Bel. Additional photo credits of Mt Kenya, lion cub and rhinos by Jamie Gaymer. Nancy’s wardrobe provided by TravelSmith and Equestrian, Hair by Kelly Willingham of Allure Salon, Make-up by Stila
Originally published at luxecoliving.com on January 19, 2017.