Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Borana Kenya Rhino

Guests can get a bird’s eye view into protection of endangered Black Rhino at the Borana Conservancy, Kenya.
Image via Borana Conservancy.

In 1909, shortly after leaving office, American President Theodore Roosevelt set sail to Africa with a lucky rabbit’s foot, several rifles and a shotgun, and four tons of salt for preserving animal hides. Over the course of two years, his expedition bagged thousands of animals (more on those numbers) that were salted, shipped back to Washington, D.C., and cataloged by naturalists at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. These artifacts formed what is still today one of the most comprehensive and educative natural history collections in the world.


At the turn of the 20th century, Roosevelt - both a hunter and a conservationist - described his encounters “literally as if the fauna of the Pleistocene had come to life again,” an inexhaustible bounty of African wildlife with no risk of extinction. But a mere hundred years later, many of these same animals now face devastating threats and scientists warn that half of all species on earth may be gone within the next century. In Africa, loss of habitat to cultivation, ranching, fencing, and mining as well as invasive species, climate change (and ensuing competition for water), and illicit poaching/trafficking all engender the risk of a catastrophic, irreversible disappearance of species.

 The Big Five - Where They Stand

African Elephant - Millions when Roosevelt visited, may now number fewer than 300,000. Species decline is 8% per year, mainly due to poaching.

Rhinoceros - South Africa is home to nearly 70% of the 29,500 rhinos left on Earth. In Kruger, poachers killed 1,100 last year, an average of 2-3 per day.

African Buffalo - Generally protected and currently ranked as a species of Least Concern.

African Leopard - Leopards have lost ⅔ of their species worldwide, but are doing well in parts of Africa, adapting to encroachment on their habitat.

African Lion - Disappearing from 80% of their historic African range, scientists estimate as few as 35,000 remain today, significantly fewer than the 100,000 lions fifty years ago.

These numbers underscore the urgent need for conservation. The good news? It can work. Recent figures cite gorilla populations are growing in Rwanda and Kenya is reporting a stabilization and some growth in their elephant numbers. (Source)

 There is a conservation element to virtually all of our African journeys, but for clients who want to dig deeper into these issues and even be a part protecting vulnerable species, we recommend both the Kenya Big Five Wildlife Census and the Zambia Conservation Safari with Hwange Extension, both of which can be done alone or added on to other itineraries. We have 2018 dates scheduled for both trips, but they can also be set up on a custom basis.

Kenya Big Five Wildlife Census, 8 nights, February 24 - March 4, 2018

Passionate about conservation and want a hands on experience? The Lewa Borana Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya is inviting guests to actively participate in their wildlife conservation efforts and be part of the ranger team helping to track, locate, and count game for the annual Big 5 Wildlife Census. This eight night itinerary offers an incredible opportunity to witness behind the scenes action and make a difference during your safari.

Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Lewa Conservancy Kenya Big Five Charlie Jackson

Up close and hands on experiences at Lewa Wilderness. Images via Lewa Wilderness/Charlie Jackson.

The journey begins in Nairobi National Park, offering a large and varied wildlife population viewed in open grassy plains before a backdrop of Nairobi skyscrapers just 7 kilometers away. Home to the world’s densest population of Black Rhinoceros, it is one of Kenya’s most successful sanctuaries for the species. Lodging here is at the beautiful Emakoko, a luxury lodge built into the cliffs above the Mbagathi River. The proximity of the lodge to Nairobi belies the serene landscape and abundant wildlife you will see here - rhino, lions, giraffe, hippo, and more. Each room includes a private veranda overlooking the park and an en suite bath. This part of the itinerary includes a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Emakoko Kenya 

Picturesque and private, just 7 km from Nairobi - Emakoko is one of our favorites in Nairobi. Image via Emakoko.

From Nairobi, it is on to the 61,000 acre Lewa Wilderness, one of Kenya’s oldest private safari experiences. This remarkable reserve, operated for 40 years by the Craig family, offers an adventure like no other and has developed a community-based conservation model that is being replicated across northern Kenya. The relaxed, family environment includes a cozy sitting room with a fireplace, a long, farm-style table in the open air dining room, natural springs, home raised livestock, and a 5 acre organic garden from which ingredients are transformed into healthy and delicious food. There are ten comfortable thatched cottages with spacious en suite bathrooms, fireplaces in the sitting areas, and verandas.

Video via Lewa Wilderness.

Day and night drives with Lewa guides track all the main safari predators, the rare Grevy zebra and, of course, the threatened rhino, both black and white, for which Lewa is a sanctuary. A morning or evening bush walk with the local Masai is an incredible opportunity to experience the area as it has been for millennia; overnight walk-in campouts (with camp supplies delivered by pack camel) are also available here via Walking Wild. A propeller bush plane, piloted by Will Craig, gives an eagle’s eye view of the conservancy while skimming the forests and flying down otherwise inaccessible gorges. Horseback safaris are also available.

From Lewa, it is on to Laikipia, the wild frontier of Kenya’s semi arid north country, and a stay at Borana Lodge at the foot of Mt. Kenya. The Borana Conservancy has a unique geographical situation which makes it a haven for a huge diversity of wildlife. The plains play host to black and white rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, Jackson’s hartebeest, buffalo, and great herds of antelope, while the cooler forest shelters bush buck, otters, and leopards. The lodge itself is perched on a hillside above a dam, where herds of elephant regularly gather to bathe at lunch time. Many of Borana’s ranches run cattle together with wildlife safaris and you can experience conservation that includes, rather than excludes, people going about their day to day lives - conserving not only wildlife but a way of life.

Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Borana Kenya Guides

Breathtaking views and insights into the conservation team at Borana Conservancy. Image via Borana.

 Borana also allows guests to get a behind the scenes view of how their conservation programs operate. Guests will be given a tour of the ranger headquarters and meet the heads of security, followed by dropping rangers off at various locations where they spend the night, keeping a watchful eye on the conservancy and its residents. The rangers are required to see each individual rhino at least once every two days and guests have the opportunity to head out with them in the morning, on foot, to track and identify an individual rhino - an exhilarating experience that also offers insight into the life of an anti-poaching team member. 

Zambia Conservation Safari with Hwange Extension, 9 nights, October 28 - November 6, 2018

This conservation oriented itinerary combines the wild abundance of northern Kafue with the serene settings of the mighty Zambezi River. Guests have the opportunity to interact with the lead researcher of the Zambian Carnivore Program, experience conservation education in action, and walk amongst one of southern Africa’s most endangered mammals.

Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Shumba Camp Zambia W Burrard Lucas

Shumba Camp in Kafue offers up close lion experiences, a unique hot air balloon safari, and much more.
Images via Shumba Camp/W. Burrard-Lucas.

The safari begins in Kafue National Park which occupies a vast expanse of Western Zambia, encompassing floodplains, rivers, and woodlands that support an impressive array of wildlife and birds. Shumba Camp, with its six luxury guest tents, is the perfect base for exploration of this wild territory. Each tent includes an en-suite bath and is perched on an elevated platform, providing stunning views of the surrounding plains. Puku, lechwe, buffalo, wildebeest, and even the rare roan antelope frequent the area, attracting wild dog, cheetah, and the famous African lions for which the camp is named. Game drives and nature walks are both excellent ways to get close to the wildlife here, while the hot air balloon experience, followed by a champagne breakfast, offers an unparalleled view of Kafue’s scenic and remote ecosystem.

The next destination of this journey is Toka Leya Camp, situated on the banks of the Zambezi River. Far enough from Livingstone to ensure a tranquil bush experience, Toka Leya is still close enough to enjoy the many activities available in the greater Victoria Falls area. Each stylishly-appointed tent has a sumptuous outdoor bath (one of our recommended most romantic African experiences), while the camp’s wellness center offers opportunities for yoga and meditation. Sunset cruises are a unique way to see wildlife here, especially the elephant and hippopotamus that frequent the Zambezi’s cool water.

Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Zimbabwe Toka Leya Hippos

Hippopotamus along the Zambezi at Toka Leya Camp. Image via Toka Leya.

Scouts from the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) closely monitor the area’s rhinoceros population 24 hours/day so their whereabouts are always known; from Toka Leya, guests can travel to the rhino’s location by vehicle followed by tracking on foot, learning about critical conservation efforts for this endangered and spectacular animal.

Of course, no trip to Zambia would be complete without a visit to nearby Victoria Falls, a World Heritage Site and one of the original natural wonders of the world. Known locally as ‘The Smoke that Thunders,’ this spectacle is an ideal place to combine game viewing and water sports. There is excellent fishing, a terrifying bungee jump, and arguably the best commercial white water rafting in the world. Toka Leya also also offers catch-and-release fishing, respectful cultural visits to nearby villages, and a back of house tour focused on the camp’s eco-friendly/sustainability efforts.

Wild at Heart Journeys Conservation Hwange Zimbabwe Davidsons Camp Elephant

Heading for a watering hole near Davidson’s Camp, Hwange National Park. Image via Davidson’s Camp.

The final destination of this itinerary Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s biggest reserve and home to a profusion of wildlife, including giraffe, lion, zebra and approximately 40,000 elephants. It provides sanctuary for all the country’s endangered species, including a population of wild dogs thought to be among the most sizeable surviving groups on the continent. Friendly Davidson’s Camp is an excellent and affordable option for exploring Hwange’s diverse terrain - from desert dunes and savanna lands to rocky outcrops and sparse forests. Visitors have the choice of game drives, guided walks, or horseback safaris as a means of experiencing the park and its creatures, especially watering holes which are popular with parades of thirsty elephants.

Planning a Conservation Journey in Africa

We are currently booking these two itineraries and can also work with clients to develop custom conservation-oriented journeys, to both the destinations described here or to other African regions focused on specific animals.

Mind blowing wildlife experiences are one of the hallmarks of any African journey and we have developed our portfolio to include many unique ways to encounter the diverse range of African species - from small group gorilla trekking and bird watching in the “green season” to sleeping with reef denizens outside the window of an underwater room. Contact us to begin designing the journey of your dreams!


Robin Francis of WAHJ has been providing African travel services for over 10 years and travels frequently to the continent to meet with partners and experience their lodging, amenities, and activities first hand. Partners regard her as one of the most knowledgeable African travel consultants in the US, who has also invested in giving back to the communities she works with. Robin and WAHJ are available for complete travel booking throughout Africa or consulting on bookings made through other providers.