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The Sarara Initiative, Kenya

April 4, 2019 East Africa Bush Tails

The laughter of a child lights up the house.

In the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya, the fate of elephants and people is intertwined — the threats they face, they face together. Poaching and habitat loss don’t just hurt elephants; they hurt the livelihoods of the local Samburu people and other tribes that call this landscape home.

Now, an opportunity is arising to establish a model of sustainable community-based conservation at an unprecedented level in Kenya — and beyond.

The Sarara Initiative is charting a new course for sustainability in East Africa by protecting Africa’s iconic landscapes, enabling communities to benefit from wildlife and maintaining cultural traditions and reliance on nature.

The Initiative is a visionary partnership between Sarara, Northern Rangelands Trust, the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and Conservation International (CI). It focuses on Namunyak’s 850,000 acres (an area larger than Yosemite National Park), with a potential reach of millions of acres of wild country stretching from Lake Turkana, down to Mount Kenya and out to the Indian Ocean.

Outside of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Namunyak contains higher populations of large mammals than any other landscape (protected or unprotected) in Kenya — including the second-largest elephant population in the country, with more than 6,300 individuals.

Yet Africa’s iconic wildlife and its peoples’ livelihoods are under threat from poachers who target elephants, rhinos and other high-value trophies. Wildlife crime jeopardizes economic prospects while fueling slavery and armed conflict. As these species near the brink of extinction, so, too, do diverse landscapes that have survived since our species was born.

The Sarara Initiative focuses on three efforts with clear outcomes and benchmarks:

  • Ensure security for wildlife and people in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy.
  • Expand community tourism infrastructure to increase revenue from wildlife.
  • Drive towards long-term sustainability via market mechanisms including carbon and cattle.

With the creation of a dedicated rapid-response mobile wildlife enforcement unit in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, the landscape can become truly safe for elephants and people. ​The initiative can produce an increase in revenue — primarily through tourism and the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary — for community investments including schools, clinics and businesses. Critically, the Initiative helps secure long-term funding by mapping and valuing the area’s essential “natural capital” — the sources of the benefits that nature provides, including fresh water, carbon storage and biodiversity.


Reteti is the first community owned and run elephant sanctuary.
Once heavily poached and severely degraded by instability, the northern rangeland is now restoring itself through transparent, self-governed community conservancies that promote the preservation of natural resources in order to create stability, employment and revenue.

The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary was officially opened by the Samburu County Governor, H.E Moses Lenolkulal, on the 20th August 2016.

Designed to Rescue and release orphaned and abandoned elephant calves, whilst creating much needed benefits to the local people that live alongside them. The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the representation of the communities standing up united for wildlife, in recognition of the value that they can cultivate.

Opportunities are being created, livelihoods are improving and wildlife is returning, proving that nature can provide a sustainable economy for the populations that occupy its magnificent ecosystem.

The orphaned elephant that are cared for by the Samburu community are symbols of a new wave of thinking about wildlife and the environment, that goes far beyond traditional conservation methods, and dives deeper into the core value of what nature represents.

On a fast developing continent where space is at a premium, the Samburu community that occupy the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy is reversing the trends and securing their wilderness landscapes, returning to an learned, age old history of wildlife tolerance and co – existence.  The nomadic pastoralists have occupied this land for over two centuries. In an unprecedented move for wildlife conservation on community owned land, the communities have come together, united for wildlife.


The Samburu singing wells are an age old tradition of the of the local people bringing their livestock to water in a semi desert environment with an evening changing of the guard, which sees wildlife pour in to use the same water source. During the dry season, Samburu families take their family herd of cattle to the singing wells where they dig for water to fill up troughs to water their cows. Each family owns one well. They sing to their livestock as they dig, and the cows recognize their family song and come down to their well to be watered. The differences between each family’s song is sometimes clear but can be very subtle. 
For guests, this is a very rare and unique thing to see, the singing wells are not commercialized. No photos are allowed, but visitors get a unique insight into what life of the Samburu is all about. 
This is something you cannot do anywhere else in Kenya. It has never been photographed and has remained unchanged and unspoiled por hundreds of years. 


Sarara Treehouses are found within the lands of the Namunyak Wildlife Conversation Trust.

Nestled into a forest glade within an hours walk of Sarara, the tree houses emerge out of the forest canopy. A main mess area and swimming pool overlooks a waterhole, whilst commanding incredible views of Mount Uarges, once of the seven sacred mountains to the Samburu. The Treehouses boast 6 luxury tents with ensuite toilet and basin with adjacent outdoor shower.

At Sarara Treehouses enjoy a wide array of wildlife that roam beneath you on the forest floor including elephants, leopards and bushbuck. Sarara Treehouses is a solar powered, off the grid masterpiece and is entirely eco-friendly, with every precaution and expense taken to preserve the natural habitat surrounding it.
The Sarara Treehouses are entirely community owned.

A visit to Sarara Treehouses is a chance to experience a wilderness like no other in Africa. Sarara Treehouses has established itself as one of the ‘hot spots’ for quality leopard viewing in Africa and equally, for close-up sightings of the normally extremely shy lesser kudu antelope. The African wild dogs are frequently encountered in the Sarara valley too. Elephant, buffalo, giraffe, gerenuk, impala and warthogs are now regularly seen on our game drives and bush walks and are very much on the increase in numbers.Unusual sightings include striped hyena, aardwolf, civet cat, African wild cat, greater kudu, grevy zebra and cheetah.