Linda Millard talks about the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Talking with Portola Valley resident Linda Millard transports the listener to Kenya, a country she’s visited almost every year since the late ’70s. We also hear about her passion for the work of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a non-profit she led for five years and is now a Board member.
“I had English cousins in Kenya,” she explains. “Our mission was to change the whole conservation narrative in Africa.
“Thirty years ago you fenced everything off to stop the poachers from taking the animals. But the fences kept everyone out. We value community involvement. Lewa was founded on the idea that resources would be shared with everyone around — teachers, kids in the literacy program, people using clinics.”
Some historical background to put Lewa’s current work in perspective:
The area was conceived as a cattle ranch in 1922 — one that was determined to coexist peacefully with the area’s wildlife. Fifty years later, it became one of Kenya’s first private ranches to welcome guests.
In the early 1980s, demand for rhino horn had brutally reduced the country’s 20,000 rhinos to less than 500 animals in total. The Lewa owners at the time, the Craig family, together with their friend and renowned ecologist, Ana Merz, recognised that a bold initiative had to be established to ensure the protection of this rapidly decreasing iconic species from one of the most devastating poaching crises Kenya had ever seen.
5,000 acres was set aside under the governing laws of Kenya and the Conservancy was established.
Ten years later, the entire ranch was converted for the same purpose, ushering in a new type of conservation model ‘for the people and by the people,’ which incorporated and benefited the communities surrounding the preserve.
While there are various options for visiting the conserve, there’s a special event in June, the Lewa Safari Marathon. Each year participants share the reserve with several large African predators including lion, leopard, hyena and wild dog.
“It’s rated as one of the 10 must-do marathons in the world,” says Linda. “And one of our new board members, Sarah Gott, is going to do it. It’s been on her dream list!”
Photo courtesy of Linda Millard