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“MY PART IN HEALING THIS FRAGILE PLANET” JAGI GAKUNJU

What force drives a man to be successful in business, an intrepid adventurer and a renowned conservationist?

Sit back relaxed, into your comfort zone because am about to narrate a  remarkable story about  Jagi Gakunju, but before we get to that lemme break the ice by a brief introduction.

Jagi Gakunju was born into a pioneering Christian family, his father having been ordained a pastor in 1935. His first memories are of the concentration camp where his family members and other Nyeri residents were interned during the Emergency. After independence, he graduated from the University of Nairobi and joined ALICO, an insurance company. A couple of months later, he unearthed a sophisticated fraud. After training overseas, he had mastered the new computer technology and was sent to train ALICO employees in the Caribbean. Developed to West Africa as the Regional Claims Manager, he was in charge of five countries. Back in Kenya, he left ALICO and joined Africa Air Rescue where his innovative sales strategy saw the company’s turnover grow by leaps and bounds. In 2003, he became the CEO of AAR.

Success in business is only half the story. Jagi has always loved nature. He has climbed Mt. Kenya 14 times and was the founding president of the Uvumbuzi club, an organization devoted to discovering the wild places of Africa. The club’s most famous achievement was in 1989 when Jagi lead members overland to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. A keen ornithologist, Jagi turned the piece of land he inherited from his parents into a nature reserve known as the Wajee Nature Park. About 120 species of birds have been recorded there and the Park has been registered as one of the official Important Bird Areas  (IBA) of the world.

Now retired, Jagi is “busier than ever” devoting his time to the Wjee Park and to many other conservation organizations of which he is a member: Friends of Karura forest, Soysambu Conservancy, Friends of Conservation, Friends of Nairobi National Park, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, African Fund For Endangered Wildlife, Uvumbuzi, Friends of City Park, Cycling out of Poverty- Coop Kenya, African Network for Animal Welfare, Riverline Nature Reserve Trust, and Wajee Mara Camp.

He begins with the story of his father, a World War II veteran who survived being murdered because of witchcraft. Born in Nyeri in 1948, Gakunju is a child of traditional and modern crossroads during the Mau Mau era, then walks us through his school life in a new environment far from home, the numerous by road on foot adventures to various destinations in Africa which will give you chills and keep you at the edge of your seat.

Living on the Edge brings new personal experiences such as Gakunju’s life in the concentration villages during the State of Emergency. This book is a “Must read” Living on the edge is available at various bookshops including; Textbook centre-Sarit, Hub, Galleria, Yaya, Prestige, Nature Kenya Bookshop and Museums of Kenya.

What really strikes me in this book is his sheer daring attitude for adventure and exploration, His reflections and perceptions are well portrayed in his book I quote ” As regards to my main passion, the environment, the most positive development I have noticed recently is the creation of community conservancies. Unlike in the past when the government looked after wildlife for the benefit of outside tourists, today communities are starting to feel that they “own” the natural resources. In a similar connection. I am happy that many Kenyans are becoming increasingly health-conscious, and that traditional African foods are making a comeback.

Then, of course, there are things which are getting worse. Corruption has become like cancer in our society. In my opinion, those who steal drugs from the poor should be charged with murder. The gap between the rich and the poor also appears to be widening whereas, after independence, we thought that it would diminish.

The number of unemployed youth is truly worrying. Our education system should be training for self-employment but currently, it is geared more towards the regurgitation of information, much of which is in fact quite useless in later life.

Despite the increasing number of Kenyans intermarrying, our leaders carry on propagating negative ethnicity. Instead of creating a nation, we have consolidated tribal empires. During elections, citizens vote for their tribal kings while issues are largely ignored. Due to their lack of vision, our leaders make poor use of the many resources we have. We ought to follow the example of a tiny Singapore, at one time a very poor country, but which has used its only resource, its port, to become many times richer than Kenya.

I believe that each of us should do the little we can to protect the environment. When I inherited Wajee Nature Park from my parents and opted to leave it for the trees and the birds, many of my neighbours thought I was crazy. According to them, I should have used it to grow crops and make money. For me, I felt that creating the Park was the only small contribution that I as an individual could make to safeguard mother earth.

While individuals can play an important part, I also hope that Kenya will in future come up with an overall integrated land policy, something that is missing at present. I feel it is not too late to achieve this.

Getting numerous degrees is all the rage these days but no matter how many you are awarded, one will be missing. That is called travel: travelling with an open mind and interacting with the local people. If you fail to travel, your thinking will be confined to what you have seen in your home area. When you travel, you will see how little you know and how much you have to learn. I had an ambition to go to all the continents and interact with the locals and can now say that I have visited all of them, including Australia. The exception was Antarctica. This travel was one of my best life investments.

When I am at times requested to give motivational talks to the youth, I stress some of the points outlined above. I advise them to invest in hard work, integrity and honesty rather than taking short cuts. I tell them that education is only which is relevant today can be obsolete in five years. They are fortunate that a massive amount of information is available today so there is no excuse for them not to carry on learning. They should invest in several skills since most jobs today require people to multitask. It may not be easy for them to be employed, but the opportunities for self-employment have never been better, thanks to the internet. I am convinced that if a good number of young people take these lessons seriously, our future as a country will be bright.

Passion is the best medicine in succeeding in whatever you are doing. Conservation to me is like a “religion” because I have come to appreciate that human beings, animals, insects, trees and plants and indeed all living things are all interconnected. If one of them becomes extinct because of our reckless use of finite resources in this fragile planet, we shall all become extinct. 80% of all the food we eat is pollinated by insects. Without pollinators, we cannot survive. I have also come to realise that the survival of this fragile planet is in the hands of ‘man’-Human beings, for the first time in this Century. We have the power to destroy or to heal mother earth. If we destroy this planet, there is no plan B”.

If you’ve been inspired, guess what! That’s just in a nutshell of what the book is all about. To order for your own copy of Living on the edge call +254 722 759 515

 

A JOURNEY TO KENYA’S MOST REMOTE REGION

Alberto Borges is a Young National Geographic Explorer, an Honorary Member of the Scientific Exploration Society—UK, and the Founder of The Explorer’s  Club of Kenya and magazine which was first published in 2014. Presently, a 3rd year at Catawba College.

 The previous days’ desert run from Marsabit to North Horr had obviously tired us out. A not-so-cosy bed and a lukewarm shower were comforting but the high temperatures gave us a restless and sleepless night.

At the crack of dawn I watched several desert birds such as the Jackson’s hornbills, crowned starlings and fan tailed ravens forage scraps of food in the sand. It seemed strange as I couldn’t figure out what they kept picking out from there. The locals were now taking their goats and camels for grazing; a typical day in North Horr was beginning.

As there is little to do for a visitor, except to visit any of the three oases and engage locals in ‘chitter-chatter’ on how and what their goats feed on for the day. We however, decided to conquer North Horr’s only highest spot, Daban-Dabli some 1000 ft a.s..l, but only a few hundred feet above the surrounding terrain, and a few miles north of the settlement. It was not an easy climb, since it was steeper than it had seemed. The summer sun scorched us mercilessly.

However, once we got to the top, we had an excellent view of the surroundings, open glades below and Mount Kulal on the southern horizon. The breeze was pleasantly cool and refreshing.

 On our return to the settlement, we saw a herd of Thompson gazelles prancing away to a safe distance. A local cautioned us against climbing down from the steeper incline as there was a high chance of encountering hyenas.

In the middle of our delicious mbuzi choma (roasted goat meat), slaughtered by the locals to welcome our arrival, the D.C received a call with sad news. Some 130 miles from here en route to the border town, Ileret, at an oasis called Darate, two lorries transporting relief food to Ileret were barred from proceeding due to ethnic differences of Gabbra (Kenyan) and Dassanach (Ethiopian) people who frequently crisscrossed the border. The situation was made worse by the killing of four Gabbra men by the Dassanach herders during this period.

 

The Dist. Commissioner (DC) summoned the O.C.S, the O.C.P.D, the area chief and about twenty police officers. After a long discussion, the DC concluded that they must immediately rush to the troubled area, and try to bring peace to the two communities who were then preparing for war. I thought this would be a perfect time to tour and explore one of Africa’s most remote regions and to understand the hardships of the people living there. I requested the D.C for me to tag along as an observer and to my surprise he agreed. However, he made it clear that it was highly risky as the area could turn to a battleground if things didn’t go as planned and that my life would be at jeopardy. None the less, I was excited to experience the adventure in a totally new way.

We sped off just after lunch in a convoy of two Land Cruisers in a westerly direction, churning up huge clouds of dust. The scenery quickly changed from sand dunes to pans and barren lava fields giving us an impression that we were on the surface of the moon.

For two hours the track was relatively smooth and progress was fast as we drove at nearly 100km/h in straight stretches.

 The track then climbed for several hundred feet until we reached a fertile plateau as compared to desert standards, locally known as Little Chalbi. Here I saw hundreds of camels and thousands of goats grazing in lush  meadows however there seemed tbe no people let alone huts.

Leaving drought stuck North Horr heading to Derate

The track quickly meandered out of sight; the Cruiser snarled its way over thickets and ruts. With no GPS or mobile network, our phones had long been rendered useless.

I consulted my map only to find out, Little Chalbi which lay approximately between 3 – 4 North of the Equator and 36 – 37° East of the Greenwich, wasn’t even indicated on the map I had. We were now off the beaten track when out of the blue it reappeared.

Little Chalbi

We drove through several rock strewn lagas (dry river beds) off Puckoon Ridge.  I had the impression that we were in a time capsule travelling thousands of years back in time, as I had not seen even one person for nearly a hundred kilometres. The landscape was untouched by humans; the little vegetation cover was dry or maybe dead. It was wild, slowly weathering and seemed to come to life during short violent flash floods.

Puckoon, Ridge, East of Sibiloi National Park

I noticed strange tall birds that were least bothered with neither the Cruisers’ diesel grunt nor the deep rumble or the stones being thrown by the tyres whenever we abruptly came to a laga. Their heads were always tilted at a forty five degree angle and didn’t move as we whizzed by. They seemed deeply engrossed with what they were doing. These huge birds are known as the Kori Bustards; the world’s highest flying birds.

The journey was getting more rough and torturous; dusk was beginning to engulf us and several nocturnal creatures were awakening. Night jars were flying off from the ground, bush hares scampered off the road, jackals and dik diks were often being seen near thickets, their eyes glowing in the dark. Suddenly we saw a camp fire, tens of men and hundreds of goats on the side of the road. We ground to a halt in an area called Darate. The foliage was dry, with small ridges covered with lava fields and dry bush. Further ahead, was an oasis fringed with palm and acacia trees surrounded by two hills and several lagas. There was a wind blown dilapidated police post with a communication radio as their only connection to the outside world.

The officers jumped out of the Cruiser and went to interrogate the men. The area M.P, a member from Marsabit  County Assembly and other Gabbra men had been spying on neighboring Dassanach people and plotting against them. They however told the D.C. they were mourning the death of the four Gabbra men who were killed by the Dassanach.

We drove to the police post further ahead where we saw the two lorries we heard about earlier, their drivers and turn boys and nine Dassanach people, mostly women and children had hitched a ride to Ileret. The D.C. summoned the M.P and the member of M.C.A for a discussion along with the O.C.S and the O.C.P.D. It was now dark and the meeting took place under a tree with the clear, star studded sky as the only source of lighting. Meanwhile, two goats, respectfully donated by the M.P to the D.C were being slaughtered. This would soon be our supper.

During daybreak, the following morning, I was taken aback by the immense strength of the wind as I walked around the camp. Engaging the officers in small talks revealed that I wasn’t the only one who had a rough night. Most officers slept on bare ground whilst a few others in the back of Land Cruisers trying to get cozy and warm. I managed to squeeze my self and sleep awkwardly in the cabin of a Cruiser. It had been a long, lonely and sleepless night for everyone.  

Desolate wilderness roamed by tough nomads and survived by hardy plants

As we had breakfast, which comprised of tea made with goat milk, army biscuits and a few groundnuts the D.C had carried, there was a lot of confusion on what was the days’ plan. Everyone had their own imaginary plans but it was up to the D.C to decide on what next. He consulted the O.C.S and the O.C.P.D and not long after, they arrived at a decision. We would escort the lorries to Ileret where the relief food was desperately needed. 

 The next leg of the journey began at about mid morning; progress was slow due to the lorries and yet again several lagas where one had to drive slowly and cautiously. After a mere 10Km, the convoy suddenly came to a halt. We saw an old Dassanach man who was carrying a rifle and head rest cum stool. The D.C stepped out of the Cruiser to enquire the man’s activities. He took my binoculars with him of which somehow made him more superior… well, from a local’s point of view at least. The old man told the D.C that some twenty donkeys of his strayed away at dawn, one of which was a new born foal.

In the background are the wind swept structures that the Administrative Police once lived. This is one of the most remote police posts in E. Africa

He suspected that they went to the oasis to quench their thirst, just near the police camp as he pointed at the hoof prints along the track. I clearly remember seeing donkeys around the camp earlier, however it seemed nobody else did.

We continued clipping off miles of dry, desolate uninhabited wild country as the hours past by. There were several dry bush birds I kept seeing, such as Kori bustards, red and yellow barbets, chest-bellied sand grouse, yellow necked spur fowls, vulturine guinea fowl, superb starlings, fan tailed ravens and Jackson’s hornbills. All this time, Lake Turkana was beckoning us but was unseen, our view blocked by ridge after ridge. However, the tracks had gradually changed from small lava rocks to smooth sands which hinted we were getting closer to the lakeshore and border town. Suddenly, many huts and small structures appeared and soon, children were chasing after the convoy. We had reached.

Ileret is a small outlandish cluster of Dassanach settlements. There are fisheries stores, N.G.Os and missionaries and of course the lakeshores which are home to crocodiles and hippos. The D.C assigned an officer to take me to the lakeshores in his Yamaha motorbike whilst they discussed the situation.

The lake was beginning to flood its shores and the waters were calm and had a deadly brownish hue, this was contrary to what I was expecting. Tales of early explorers that I had read, to Lake Turkana told of the waters being jade in color, just like the oceans yet rougher than the North Sea.  The brownish hue was being caused by siltation from the over flooded Omo River which was carrying sediments from the Ethiopian Highlands.

 

At this time of the year, the over forty varieties of fish are more in the north than in the south as the sediments bring in nutrients hence breeding occurs. The fishermen harvest high yields of fish and the lake is teaming with plenty of water birds.

After spending some time by the shores, we headed back to the town, at the police station where the rest were having yet another goat meat lunch. We then toured the new Lake Turkana Basin Institute founded by Dr. Richard Leakey to study various fossils that he and his team discovered in Koobi Fora.  Later, we began our return journey to North Horr which took us more than five long hours through the boundaries of Sibiloi National Park. We arrived in North Horr by 9.00p.m safe and sound but tired, dusty and hungry. 

Darate Oasis

                   

Interested in Joining the explorers club? Get in touch through any of their contacts below

THE EXPLORER’S CLUB OF KENYA,

P.O.BOX 39939-00623

NAIROBI, KENYA CALL:+254 706 561 519

EMAIL: explorers club- kenya@gmail.com FACEBOOK: THE EX- EXPLORER’S CLUB KEN- YA.

TWITTER:@explorersclubk

INSTAGRAM: explorersclubkenya

 

 

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TRAVELIFE ENHANCING SUSTAINABILITY IN TOURISM AND TRAVEL

Twiga Tours Becomes the First Tour Operator in East Africa to attain Tourism Sustainability Certification Status

Nairobi, November 16, 2018. The Travelife Certified award was received today by Twiga Car Hire & Tours. The award recognizes the long-term efforts and frontrunner position of Twiga Tours regarding sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.

 Twiga Car Hire & Tours complies with more than 200 criteria, related to an operator’s office management, product range, international business partners and customer information. The Travelife standard is covering the ISO 26000 Corporate Social Responsibility themes, including environment, biodiversity, human rights and labour relations; and is Accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council as in compliance with the GSTC criteria and certification procedures.  

 

Twiga Car Hire & Tours is the first company in Kenya to have obtained the Travelife Certified award.

 Mr Naut Kusters, manager of Travelife for tour operators, “I am delighted to see that sustainability in the tour operators sector is obtaining momentum. The award of the front-runner Twiga Car Hire & Tours will inspire other companies in Kenya to follow the same path”.

 Travelife is the leading international sustainability certification for the travel sector. More than 35 national travel associations are promoting the scheme to their members including, KATO (Kenyan Association of Tour operators), ABTA, The British Travel Association and PATA, the Pacific Asian Travel Association.

 In Kenya, Travelife works in close partnership with Ecotourism Kenya, who is managing the customized scheme. Jointly, Travelife, Ecotourism Kenya and KATO are presently implementing an EU funded initiative (Green Tour Kenya) to work towards a sustainable travel sector in Kenya.  The project aims to support more than 100 KATO members in the adaptation of common sustainability standards.

 Mr. Fred Kaigua, KATO CEO, “Twiga Car Hire & Tours is a Category “A” member of KATO and we are happy to note the effort they have made towards achieving this award.  We trust that this recognition will inspire other companies to follow suit.

Mrs. Grace Nderitu, Ecotourism Kenya CEO, “The award of sustainable tourism certification to Twiga Tours marks a major milestone for the tourism industry in Kenya.  The tour operators certification complements the eco-rating certification standard for accommodation facilities and jointly work to give an assurance that Kenya’s tourism is sustainable”.

About Travelife (www.travelife.org)

Travelife is a certification system, dedicated to achieving sustainable practices within the tourism industry.  It provides companies with realistic sustainability goals, tools, and solutions to implement positive change within their businesses and supply chains. Travelife is managed by ABTA – The Travel Association in the UK – and by ECEAT Projects – a not-for-profit organization based in The Netherlands.

Travelife for Tour operators and Travel agents:  the scheme provides online training and practical tools for sustainability management and certification. The training and online tools are suitable for tour operators and travel agencies of any size and cover all management aspects of the travel company business including office operations, the supply chain, destinations and consumers. Upon submitting a report in compliance with the Travelife standard (based on an independent onsite audit), the company can obtain the “Travelife Certified” status.

The Travelife standard for Tour operators and Travel agencies is based upon the full Corporate Social Responsibility themes, including labor conditions, human rights, environment, biodiversity and fair business practices. The management requirements are compatible with EMAS and ISO 14001. The system is supported by more than 35 national travel associations to further its implementation among members 

About Ecotourism Kenya  

Ecotourism Kenya is a business membership association directly serving more than 350 members, and reaching out to hundreds more in Kenya. Since its inception in 1996 Ecotourism Kenya has been involved in a wide range of activities to promote and broaden the industry understanding of sustainable tourism, and attract membership beyond the mainstream tourism industry. Ecotourism Kenya has had many firsts: it was the first Ecotourism Society in Africa; the first to develop a voluntary eco-certification scheme for hotels/lodges in Africa, the first to publish a Green Directory of producers of green products and services, the first to develop a customized sustainability standard for Tour Operators in E. Africa and the first to develop Green Destination Guidelines in Africa. For further read, visit our website http://ecotourismkenya.org/