Exploring Naretunoi Community Conservancy
Following on from last week’s theme of travel destinations within the five zoned counties, the focus this week is on a conservancy on the confluence of three of those counties – Nairobi, Machakos and Kajiado. Once again, I owe it to a reader of this column for bringing this place to my attention; I really appreciate the emails I’ve been receiving with recommendations, especially in this time of travel restrictions and curfews.
The place I’m talking about is the Naretunoi Community Conservancy – a 2,200-acre parcel of land along the southern border of Nairobi National Park. The conservancy is supported by an organisation called the Wildlife Foundation (TWF) which, since 2016, has implemented a lease programme with local Maasai landowners. After a quick search online, I found the number of TWF’s Head of Communications, Vincent Ole Simel, who I arranged to meet in Kitengela, along the Nairobi-Namanga Road.
After navigating a swarm of boda bodas and eventually finding Vincent at the Kitengela Mall, we turned off the main road and headed northwest towards Nairobi National Park. The tarmac quickly disappeared, and we continued along winding tracks through sticky black cotton soil.
Vincent knew the area well, and said we were passing through Sheep and Goats land, which had recently (and controversially) been handed over to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife to enlarge the park.
Our view to the north improved as we left the monstrous concrete factories of Athi River behind, and looked down onto the southern circuit of the National Park. At the heart of an exposed plain, two rhinos lazed in the mid-morning heat. We were separated from the park by Mbagathi River, but there was plenty of wildlife on our side of the boundary – herds of wildebeest, zebras, Thomson’s gazelles and giraffes. Vincent stressed the importance of keeping the region open as a dispersal area for wildlife, but it was clear from the long fence lines that we passed that large chunks of land had already been hived off.
After 10 kilometres or so from Kitengela, we reached the Wildlife Foundation Centre, within the Naretunoi Community Conservancy. Here, there are TWF offices, a large meeting room and 23 guest bandas, all set within a dense thicket of acacias near the southern bank of Mbagathi River. The centre is ideal for team-building events, corporate or school groups, or families looking for a quiet weekend getaway.
There are three separate family units and 20 smaller rooms – all quite basic but comfortable, and attractively built from brick, wood and thatch. The centre is solar-powered with Wi-Fi and has a restaurant that can cater for groups when booked in advance.
There are plenty of activities on offer, too, and guests can support TWF with their work in the community. Visitors can sponsor and install Lion Lights for conservancy members – which help to prevent livestock predation at night – set up camera traps along animal paths, explore the conservancy on foot or by bike, help to collect litter and clear out invasive parthenium weeds along the river, plant trees, and lots more.
As we walked to the edge of the river, Vincent explained the work of TWF further, describing their bursary programme for local students, and their employment of eight Game Scouts. These scouts work with KWS to patrol the area and report any incidents of bushmeat killing or other illegal activities. Vincent and I saw evidence of such an activity on our short walk – a smouldering charcoal-burning pit. So TWF are doing some very important work in the region, and they always appreciate any support from visitors and volunteers.
Head to www.thewildlifefoundationkenya.org to learn more, or call 0731 619937. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for their bi-monthly game counts, which are open to the public.