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From a working cattle ranch in colonial Kenya, to a trailblazer of conservation innovation – the story of Ol Pejeta is powerful. Today, Ol Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and home to three of the world’s last remaining northern white rhino. It has some of the highest predator densities in Kenya and still manages a very successful livestock programme. Ol Pejeta also seeks to support the people living around its borders, to ensure wildlife conservation translates to better education, healthcare and infrastructure for the next generation of wildlife guardians.

Our team at Black Bean Productions recently traveled to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the Laikipia County in Kenya on assignment for United for Wildlife. On this assignment to Ol Pejeta, we were documenting the incredible work being done at Ol Pejeta Conservancy – both in terms of conservation and work within the community. The film I am a Ranger is one of the six films we are producing for United for Wildlife and hopes to shine a light on some of the many unsung heroes working in conservation that are at the forefront of the war on poaching and conservation in Africa. It also aims to give viewers some insight into the challenges these individuals face and their view on the current situation with regards to wildlife crime in Africa. They urge us to join hands and to work with them to protect our wildlife, as they cannot do this alone.

Ol Pejeta’s themes are guardianship, innovation and authenticity.

Guardianship: Ol Pejeta are caretakers of the land, safeguarding endangered species and ensuring the openness and accessibility of conservation for all. They offer a day pass and various options in terms of accommodation – allowing a variety of individuals to experience what they have to offer, rather than a select few that can afford it.

Innovation: We were taken aback by Ol Pejeta’s innovative conservation model. It is fresh, proactive and in many ways brave. As per their website, ‘an innovative attitude is part of our make-up, we empower our people to think the same way and embrace new approaches to conservation.’

Authenticity: The experience one has when visiting Ol Pejeta is incredibly real. You are educated about wildlife crime and the poaching crisis, rather than this being something that one just does not talk about. ‘We provide natural wilderness experiences, backed up by scientifically credible conservation and genuine interactions with wildlife.’

In 2014, Ol Pejeta achieved IUCN Green List status and is one of only two conservancies in Africa to be awarded this. IUCN Green Listing aims to define excellence in managing valuable natural areas.

Here Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, is seen, sleeping as close to Ringo, a rescued baby southern white rhino, as possible, through the enclosure
Here Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, is seen sleeping close to Ringo, a rescued baby southern white rhino

As a team, we were moved by these individuals. They are genuine, passionate, humble and knowledgeable. It was such a privilege to spend time with them. Some of those featured in the film are part of the anti-poaching unit at Ol Pejeta, some manage human-wildlife conflict in the area, and others are the caregivers and protectors of the last remaining northern white rhinos on earth. These animals are guarded 24/7 at the conservancy.

Peter was there when Sudan, Najin and Fatu first arrived at Ol Pejeta in 2009 and has been with them ever since

There are only three northern white rhinos left in the world – Sudan (the last male northern white rhino at 43 years old), Najin (Sudan’s daughter at 27 years old) and Fatu (Najin’s daughter at 16 years old). They all were raised in a zoo in the Czech Republic and were brought to Ol Pejeta in 2009 in the hopes that they would breed in a more natural environment. Sadly all attempts at breeding have been unsuccessful thus far and Ol Pejeta, alongside other individuals and organisations, are working hard to attempt to use IVF  (In Vitro Fertilisation) technology to save this subspecies from extinction. Our hope is that this will be successful and we can one day have a steady population of these magnificent rhino again.

One of the last two female northern white rhinos on earth
One of the last two female northern white rhinos on earth

We thought the northern white rhino would look very similar to the southern white rhino. So similar in fact, that we would not be able to tell them apart. However, this was not the case at all. Northern white rhinos have hairier ears, larger and shorter heads, shorter legs, they have a concave back (versus the more convex back of southern white rhinos) and their horns, when fully grown, twist differently. The physical differences were very obvious and it was so moving to spend time with these three prehistoric creatures.

Another character in this short film is Ringo. Named after the famous musician from the Beatles, this little rhino orphan was abandoned by his mother due to a medical condition and was rescued by the team at Ol Pejeta. He was incredibly weak and malnourished and needed constant company and comfort.

Ringo interacting with the crew

The most incredible part of Ringo’s arrival at Ol Pejeta was that he gave Sudan, at 43 years old, a new lease on life. Sudan was lonely as he cannot be in an enclosure with other rhino due to aggression and the fact that he is blind in one eye. The guards say Sudan has transformed and even looks younger.

Unfortunately during the night of the 19th July, beloved Ringo passed away. Ringo had been unwell for two weeks, and despite best efforts, he succumbed to his illness during the night. His caregivers were by his side.

Ringo has a mud bath with Peter, James and Jacob

United for Wildlife, through this film, aim to give rangers a voice. They are the ones fighting the war on the ground and working tirelessly in the field to protect our wildlife. And it’s about time we celebrate these men and women that are doing this work all over Africa and the world. These are people with incredible insight and knowledge. Amongst them, you will find skills and expertise that have been fine-tuned to deal with everyday challenges that we could never imagine dealing with. They are doing good work and its key to help them expand upon what they are doing.

Often we focus on the wrong individuals when it comes to controversial topics like conservation – and it is about time the world tuned into what people in the thick of it have to say about wildlife in Africa. This film focuses on the rangers working at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy – but they represent so many other male and female rangers. United for Wildlife was created by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Led by The Duke of Cambridge, our campaign unites the world’s leading wildlife charities under a common purpose: to create a global movement for change.

the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
The team in Kenya at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Thanks for taking the time to watch the film. Please share it with friends and family, and stay informed. It is so important that we ‘join hands’ and help those on the ground doing important work. If you would like to contribute to the ‘Make a Rhino’ Project – which aims to use IVF technology to save the northern white rhino from extinction  -you can donate here. They still need to raise a huge amount of money to attempt this procedure.

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From a young age James and Sam Suter were exposed to the wonders of Africa and it’s wilderness areas. After graduating with a diploma in Environmental Studies, James went on to guiding where he honed his skills, picked up his camera and started to document his day-to-day scenes. James now offers private photographic safaris and operates throughout Southern and East Africa. As well as his private guiding, James is co-owner of Black Bean Productions – a small independent production company in Cape Town. Sam is the producer at Black Bean Productions. With a passion for conservation, travel and Africa – she creates short films and assists teams in raising much needed funds and awareness to continue the good work they are doing on the ground. Black Bean Productions have produced films for the SANParks Honorary Rangers, Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre and most recently is working on a film for the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching unit – the first all female anti-poaching unit that are doing critical work in the Greater Kruger National Park. James and Sam have extensively traveled throughout Africa and recently got married and decided to take 6 weeks to explore the wild places of Namibia – they plan to visit many of the protected areas between Cape Town and the Kunene region in Namibia and share what they discover.

Africa Geographic Travel