Doing the Lewa Marathon the Easy Way

How about taking a walk with wildlife? That’s something very special you can do towards the end of this month – and in one of the most dramatic landscapes Kenya has to offer.

It’s the Lewa Marathon I am talking about – that unique event, sponsored by Safaricom and organised by the Tusk Trust. I‘m not suggesting you run in it – the list of 1,400 competitors was filled less than five hours after registration opened back in February. No, I’m suggesting you go and spectate, and enjoy this very rare opportunity to walk in a conservancy that is home to an amazing variety of animals – including all the ‘big five’ of elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards.

And if saying that makes you a little apprehensive about being knocked over by one of these wild things, don’t worry. The security arrangements are first rate; this will be the 17th running of the event, and in all the previous 16 there hasn’t been even one risky confrontation with an animal.

With my own two Fox animals, Andreas and Jan, I went along to Lewa for a couple of days at the beginning of the week to check on the preparations for the marathon. After some fascinating discussions with Lewa managers, rangers and security staff – and after game drives around some of its 62,000 acres – I can think of some very good reasons for being there on 25th June.

Here are three of those reasons why you should consider making the four hours’ drive to Laikipia, over-nighting on the Friday in one of the varied places around Nanyuki – and there might be camping slots still available at Lewa. You will need to get into the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy early Saturday morning (the races start at 7am and finish by lunchtime). Of course, you could make a full weekend of sightseeing in an area with very many attractions.

First, Lewa is a very special place. It has become a model for wildlife conservation; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it has a remarkable record of supporting the health care, education, and development of its surrounding communities.

It began back in 1983 as a sanctuary to help prevent the extinction of black rhinos in Kenya. Now, it has 11% of Kenya’s rhinos. It also has the world’s largest population of the endangered Grevy’s zebras – those beautiful animals with thinner black and white stripes than the common plains zebras.

We saw a good number of the white as well as the black rhinos, and also the Grevy’s zebras. We also spotted – well, you can hardly miss spotting them – plenty of Lewa’s elephants. Perhaps you will remember the story of the elephant called Mountain Bull, who regularly traversed the Lewa, Samburu, Ngare Ndare and Mount Kenya migration routes, before he was slaughtered by poachers.

Lewa is heavily involved in the protection of elephants – and also rhinos, of course – not only in the conservancy but also in the neighbouring areas of Mount Kenya and in the conservancies of the Northern Rangeland Trust. While we were there this last week we chatted with a guy from Wales who is training dogs for anti-poaching tracking work in these places. Recently, one of Lewa’s bloodhounds tracked some poachers all the way to Isiolo.

My second reason for being there on 25th June is that you will be supporting an event that is itself supporting a range of development projects in the surrounding areas. We visited some of them: an irrigation scheme for agriculture; a health care clinic; classrooms and a library in a primary school. Many projects like these have benefited from the running of the marathon.

Here are a few statistics to reinforce the point: In 2015, Lewa supported 21 schools, provided 27 new classrooms and toilet blocks, employed 75 teachers, and awarded 388 bursaries and scholarships. It implemented six clean water projects, and it distributed $88,600 to 742 women in small-scale loans.

Since its inception, the Safaricom Marathon has raised $5 million; last year it raised $640,000; this year, the CEO of Safaricom, Bob Collymore, has set a personal target of $1 million. Most of this money goes towards wildlife conservation and community development programmes.

My third reason is that you will be watching an event that runs across savannah grasslands and along wooded river banks. And in the distance there are Mounts Kenya and Ololokwe.

In the afternoon, you can take a trip into the adjacent Ngare Ndare Forest. It is magical up there. And there is a canopy walk of 450 metres along a swinging wire bridge. One of the group of journalists we were with took a lot of persuading to attempt it. When he reached the other side, he gasped, ‘That was the longest 450 metres of my life!’

But Ngare Ndare is a story Jan will take up next week.

For any enquiries about the marathon day and camping possibilities, email to marathon@lewa.org.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation