Category Archives: Ex-poachers

Tsavo West Projects Hit The Headlines In Kenya

If a tree falls in the wood and no one hears it, did it fall?  Maybe it fell, maybe it didn’t.  Whilst working on development projects in remote communities, this proverb often comes to mind. 

A former poacher ponders his new role as a protector of Tsavo West National Park

A former poacher ponders his new role as a protector of Tsavo West National Park

 Although the value of the work undertaken shouldn’t be determined by who knows about it; if no one knows about it, no one else can learn from your successes and failures, and, the impact of the work you have undertaken is only on the people you work directly with. 

The unforgiving land of Tsavo West overshadowed by Mt Kilimanjaro

The unforgiving land of Tsavo West overshadowed by Mt Kilimanjaro

In contrast, if that information is shared, then other development workers, communities in similar situations and governments can potentially learn from the success of your project.  Thus, the influence of the project is far broader than simply the people you work directly with. 

Former poachers drink tea and discuss their new futures around the campfire

Former poachers drink tea and discuss their new futures around the campfire

That’s why everyone at GVI was so excited to hear that GVI and WSPA’s projects in Tsavo West had been featured on the second page of one of Kenya’s major newspapers.  The link is featured on this page, so take a look and see if you can take something away from the story of the poachers from Kidong, Kasaani and Mahandakini.

Reconstructing Ex-Poacher’s Lives

A few weeks ago, GVI successfully delivered comprehensive lessons to a group of ex-poachers in community of Kasaani on free range chicken farming as an alternative income generating project.  The lessons covered topics including; disease recognition and treatment, general chicken care and raising chicks.  The ex-poachers of Kasaani were very enthusiastic about the prospect of starting a free range chicken farming project as a means of generating sustainable alternative incomes, and also, a means of providing the community of Kasaani with improved access to affordable sources of protein rich foods.  After the lessons were delivered, there was only one thing preventing the community of Kasaani from starting the free range chicken farming project – a well built chicken coop and fenced area to keep the chickens safe from predators and diseases.  Things are not done by halves at GVI and that is why we returned to Kasaani just weeks later to help them build their first community run free range chicken coop.

David and Zeller put the fence up around the chicken coop

David and Zeller put the fence up around the chicken coop

A team of volunteers from GVI spent two weeks working side by side with a group of ex-poachers from Kasaani constructing a community run chicken coop.  The chicken coop was designed by GVI staff and the community of Kasaani, constructed using local materials and local building techniques, and built in two weeks by an enthusiastic team of GVI volunteers and community members.  The group of ex-poachers in Kasaani will also be provided with around twenty chickens to start the project. 

Lydia and Roger constructing the walls of the coop

Lydia and Roger constructing the walls of the coop

The community will then be responsible for feeding the chickens, vaccinating against diseases and selling the eggs.  The project is designed to be completely self sustaining; the community will use the profits from the sale of eggs to purchase more chickens and eventually, to build another coop which will replicate the first to keep broilers which they can breed to sell meat and also have chicks to replace the layers in the first coop.   

The chicken coop nears completion

The chicken coop nears completion

For me personally, the greatest moment of the construction project was listening to a group of young women from Kasaani talking about the chicken coop whilst sitting around the camp fire at night.  Oblivious to my presence and talking in Kiswahili, the women were discussing the value of the project to their community – Eliza one of the beautiful young women from Kasaani said, ‘This project is going benefit us so much, we can start generating incomes almost immediately.  Then we can save the money we make from selling eggs and build another coop.’.  Eliza’s comment sums up everything that GVI is trying to provide the community with – a sustainable income generating project which the community feels complete ownership over.  And with that one comment, all of the aches and pains from two weeks of construction under the hot African sun disappeared!

The sign says it all

The sign says it all

Killing Two Birds With One Stone

The people of Kidong, Kasaani and Mahandakini have now given up poaching for over three years.  For the past three years, GVI has been working with these communities to assist them to develop sustainable alternative income generating projects.  When I first started working with these communities in 2008, I thought that the only issue facing them was the loss of their source of income.  It is definitely the main issue, but what I have since discovered is that these communities also face other challenges associated with their withdrawal from poaching activities.

Juma, a villager from Kasaani, looks over Tsavo West where he once poached wildlife to generate an income

Juma, a villager from Kasaani, looks over Tsavo West where he once poached wildlife to generate an income

Not only did the people of Kidong, Kasaani and Mahandakini rely on poaching as a means of generating incomes, the bush meat they poached also formed a critical part of their diets and the main source of protein.  As such, their decision to stop poaching also left them with a lack of protein in their diets.  Food security issues have long plagued the Taveta region which only exacerbates the ill effects of losing a key source of protein in the diet of these villagers.

Rachel teaching the people of Kasaani about chicken farming

Rachel teaching the people of Kasaani about chicken farming

As a means of overcoming these issues, GVI spent two weeks in the community of Kasaani introducing the idea of free range chicken farming to the community.  Free range chicken farming can not only serve as an income generating project, but also, as a means of increasing the availability of protein to the people of Kasaani.  The lessons covered topics such as disease recognition and treatment, humane ways of raising chickens, and general chicken farming information.  The community of Kasaani were very enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming free range chicken farmers and the benefits that this project could bring to the wider community.  As such, GVI is hoping to further assist the community of Kasaani with this project by constructing a number of chicken coops in the village via GVI’s Construction and Sustainable Development Project to ensure that their chickens are housed safely at night.  If you would like to contribute to this or other sustainable development projects in Kenya just visit

One of the chickens used for demonstration purposes with the community

One of the chickens used for demonstration purposes with the community

Strange Avian Encounters

GVI have been in Kenya since the beginning of 2006 with the four programmes; marine research, coastal forest research, teaching and community development in Mkwiro and Shimoni villages, and community development in three villages bordering Tsavo West National Park, near Taveta.

The community development work in the Taveta region is specifically working with the villages of Kidong, Kasaani and Mahandakini.  These three villages used to be notorious poaching communities, but have given up poaching for safer, less destructive alternative livelihoods. 


 A truly spectacular shot of a superb starling in flight.  Seen during bird surveys 

GVI has been helping them with many different things over the years, but have recently been focussing on developing their access to the tourist trade, value-added products, food security and agricultural improvements, to name a few. 

For example, the community in Kidong has been developing a cultural centre which can be used for tourism and community education.  To go hand in hand with this, GVI is helping to train tour guides for activities such as guided tours of the local area.  This information will also be used in the cultural centre itself.  To enhance the training and knowledge of the guides, our teams out there have been conducting bird surveys to establish what species are found in which areas, so the guides can be trained on the identification of the common species.

However, there have been some unexpected sightings….

Our teams have recorded some species which (according to various bird books) are not meant to be found in the area at all!  They are 100% confirmed sightings, as all teams are trained in bird surveys and the common species, and the staff members that are present have years of experience in bird surveys and avian identification.


 Lizzard buzzard seen during bird surveys

Unfortunately we have not managed to get any decent photos, but will keep trying! The species are as follows:

  • White fronted bee-eater
  • Fischer’s lovebird
  • Red-chested sunbird
  • Violet wood hoopoe

To be honest, we’re not sure what to do, if anything at all!  It is perfectly reasonable for species to move into new areas, or expand their home ranges over time.  And of course bird books will eventually become ‘out of date’.  It is just odd, as you learn to rely almost entirely on bird books and it comes as quite a surprise when one is proved wrong!


 Red-billed hornbill with a mouthfull!  Seen during bird surveys

Anyway, we have sent the information to Birdlife International, and at the very least they may find the information interesting.  The bird surveys will continue, and we will certainly keep you all informed if we come across anything else strange!   

When The Water Flows

I’ve been writing about our ‘adventures’ in Tsavo on a water access project for Kasaani village where former paochers have turned their back on the bush meat trade in search of a more sustainable way of life. We are all rightly proud of what was achieved in two weeks armed with just spades and hoes but much of the credit goes to our project leader and mastermind, Sara… so here’s what those two weeks traversing the Tsavo bush meant to her:

It takes a fair bit to make me cry, but I do cry.  People cry for different reasons and at different times.  Some cry around others who are crying, other people cry when they are alone.  Some wear big sunglasses and let a few tears sneak out when no one is watching (that’s me), others cry loudly and freely.  The last time I cried was sitting on a bus from Mombasa to Taveta – I looked out of the window and saw people carrying empty yellow water jerry cans to the north of the village of Kasaani.  I knew some of the people and didn’t know others.  So why would I cry about that?  Because it meant that the water pipeline I had been working on a week earlier was up and running and the people of this village were no longer making the 5km return journey to fetch water from the water source they previously relied upon.

When I left Kasaani a week earlier, the pipeline was complete but there were a few teething problems and I was yet to see the water flowing for any extended period of time.  Even though countless people from the community had called me the following week to tell me that the water was flowing, the sight of people carrying their jerry cans out in the direction of the tap in Kasaani somehow made it more real.  I knew for sure that the pipeline was being used and making a difference to the people of this community.  Seeing people fetching water from the tap in Kasaani was worth every ache and pain that arose during the two weeks we spent working on the pipeline.


Priscilla collects water in her own village 

Working on this project has been one of the best things I have ever done and I don’t say things like that lightly.  It has been tough.  More things went wrong than I dared to consider could possibly have gone wrong.  But at the end of the day the only thing that matters is the people of Kasaani now have their own supply of drinking water in their village.


Sara (left), David the chairman of the Kasaani ex-poachers group and Zaya witness the first waters flowing towards Kasaani 

I owe thanks to so many people who made this project possible – to Taveta District Council’s Constituency Development Fund for putting in the greatest financial contribution, and doing it within the time frame required, to the other GVI staff who ventured out there and covered me while I was tied up in endless meetings, to the community of Kasaani for their endless work, to my boss for believing that I could pull this project off, and, to the amazing volunteers who came out to work on this project – it would never have happened without them.  Asanteni sana.


Digging Our Way To Kasaani

So, as I wrote about before, a small team of us had two weeks to lay a 3.5km water pipeline from Salita bore hole to Kasaani village. And bring them a water supply for the first time in living memory.

We didn’t have any kind of modern machinery to help us. Instead we had a collection of hoes and spades. And 3.5km of red earth baked rock hard by the Tsavo sun. However we also had the community members of Kasaani, by our sides, literally day and night; to teach us their digging techniques, to swell our numbers from 7 to over 70 on some days, to sing us songs, tell us stories, make us laugh when the going got beyond tough, to make us cups of hot sweet Kenyan chai at the end of a long day, even to cook us dinner when we barely had the energy to walk home. They sat with us around the campfire until we went to bed, and they were there waiting for us at sunrise the next morning.


Their belief in the project and their commitment to making it work, within our 2 weeks, left us with no doubt that it would happen… even on the morning of day 2, when we returned to Salita village to admire the maiden 80m of trench we’d dug the first day… only to find there was no trench. It had been filled in. In its place was a group of rather upset, rather intimidating, Maasai women. It turns out that despite the project leaders dutifully going through the process of informing all stakeholders, including the Maasai leaders, the message had not been passed down to their Maasai community. In a region where living is a daily struggle and resources hard to come by it is understandable that the women of the community were alarmed by the ‘sudden’ rush of activity to divert precious water from their borehole. Over and above that, there are certain protocols that should be respected!

Disheartening as it was to see our previous day’s hard work undone, it was an interesting and very genuine cultural insight, as members of Taveta District council teamed up with the Maasai leaders to explain the project, explain the surveys that showed there was sufficient water in the borehole to supply both villages, and thanks to the local MP, to promise a new water pump that would actually increase the flow of water through their tap. So by mid afternoon, with protocol duly complied with, we were back with the chattering, smiling Maasai women who had watched us the day before and more importantly back with spades and hoes in hand. We made sure we reached 100m before putting them down, just to feel that we had made some progress that day.


The rest of the week was thankfully less ‘eventful’, characterised by a daily increase in blisters, sore muscles and physical exhaustion! The ground was hard… very very hard. Even with up to 30 of Kasaani’s human digging machines putting us to shame, were closer to a third of the way by the end of week one, not half way where we needed to be! The weekend off became just the Sunday off as we spent Saturday playing catch up until we could no longer physically raise a hoe above our heads.

Fortunately the villagers of Kasaani spent the weekend rallying the troops and with some astute negotiations from David the chairman of the Kasaani ex-poachers group, the following Monday saw 50 villagers join us. Before the end of week 2 we had close to 80 and come Thursday morning we had the privilege to be laying 3.5km of pipes along a trench that stretched from Salita to Kasaani… 3.5km of blood, sweat and tears!


Standing in Kasaani village at 8pm on Thursday night to watch the first water flow down the pipe, it was almost too close a call for comfort… but we had the sheer overwhelming joy of seeing water make its way, finally, to Kasaani. Not quite all the way; a dodgy connection along the pipework meant we didn’t quite get to see it flow from the tap, but the hard work had been completed and we could leave Kasaani Friday morning knowing that all that stood between the villagers collecting water from their very own supply were a few hours of tinkering with pipe connections.

The final sighs of relief and tears of emotion came the following Tuesday morning. David called to tell us that the villagers of Kasaani were filling up their 20l water containers from the tap in their village! But the actual reason he called was simply to thank us… they finally had water in their village and it meant the world to them. 

Bringing Water to Kasaani

It was back in early 2007 that GVI first met and began to work with the community of Kasaani village… in many ways your ‘stereotypical’ rural dusty Kenyan community trying to scrape a living from the land.


The Tsavo landscape around Kasaani village

In their case the land lies on the very edge of Tsavo West National Park. The landscape is stunning with views of Chyulu Hills and Taita Hills dotting the Kenyan plains to the North and East, the impressive North Pare Mountains of Tanzania to the South and, when the clouds clear, the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro to the West.


Collecting water from the neighbouring village of Cess

However it makes for tough living, the rains so unpredictable that their efforts at subsistence farming are more like a lottery than a livelihood. It’s not just the crops that suffer from lack of water; the community of Kasaani have never had a water source in their village and normal daily life requires the men, women and children to make a 5km round trip to their nearest source. Those lucky enough to have a bicycle can fetch 60l at a time, on foot you have to triple the number of journeys. Beatrice highlighted just one example of how they are forced to economise on water when she pointed to a group of children and told me how they don’t wash their children’s clothes when they need to because they just can’t spare the water.


Some of the curious children at Kasaani

Poor access to potable water is cited as one of the key objectives of the millennium development goals. So getting water to this community that we have been working with to promote sustainable alternative livelihoods in place of poaching and the bush meat trade has become a priority… with volunteer manpower and some funding sourced, we set ourselves the challenge – 3.5km of trenches to be dug to run a water pipeline from the borehole at Salita village.

We teamed up with Taveta District Council’s Constituency Development Fund to co-finance the project and bring the expertise, and we, our volunteers and the ex-poachers of Kasaani teamed up for two weeks of digging.

At the outset it seemed a huge task for our team armed only with pangas, hoes and spades but when on the first day we took the 5km round trip with a 20l container to get our own water the value of the project struck home and the seeds of determination were sown.


Our own attempts to fetch water from the nearest supply

Stay tuned for our progress,


Results Of The Adventure To Tsavo West

There has been a lot happening recently on our sustainable development programme on the edge of Tsavo West, where we are working with former wildlife poachers in Kasaani, Kidong and Mahandakini to find alternative ways to earn a living that enhance conservation rather than threaten wildlife. We have very exciting news to report from Kasaani but will start with Kidong…

Our team returned from Kidong very excited and clutching a box of new aloe vera soaps! One of the key objctives of our visit to Kidong had been to assist the community with the final stages of producing and packaging natural soaps to sell to tourists in Kenya… and we did it!


The community of Kidong learn how to make soap over a year ago; however more recently GVI has been helping the community group develop this recipe in to a higher-end product that could be marketed to tourists. The soaps are made start to finish by members of the ex-poacher community group and are packaged using natural materials including sisal fibres and recycled paper made using elephant dung for the labels. The looks of surprise, contenment and achievement on the face of some of the older men of the Kidong group as they wrapped soap with sisal string, tied beads on and stamped their recycled paper was very special.


The rationale behind producing soaps that can be sold to tourists is to enhance the markets and profit margins for the group. The community will continueto make their more basic neem soaps for the local market in and around Taveta which means they don’t end up wholly dependent on tourism which is not necessarily the most reliable market in Kenya.


The other key objective of the trip to Kidong was to was to continue to assist the group with the development of their cultural centre  as a community-based eco-tourism initiative. It was a succesful week teaching the community how to cook panckaes with honey-carmel sauce and other ‘exotic’ dishes for tourists including guacamole and salsa. After some giggles from the community over the food that tourists might like to eat, we mnaged to uncover some talnted chefs within the group. Pancakes with honey-caramel suace were an absolute winner and with a bit more work we hope to see them served up to tourists at Kidong Cultural Centre by the end of the year!

Honey Not Horn

The work GVI does on the border of Tsavo West National Park with three villages of ex-poachers continues at an exciting pace.  The villagers, who all chose to stop poaching and to actively seek alternative livlihoods, are progressing in leaps and bounds with both conservation and income generation.  Brittany, who recently returned from the village of Kasaani, tells us how she saw things…

 We arrived in Taveta dusty, dirty and bruised – the bus journey was our first challenge. The final leg to Kasaani was brief and our arrival much anticipated by its vibrant villagers and beautiful baobab trees. The moment we stepped off our matatu and were greeted with fluming tongues and warm embraces by Priscilla (the village elder), we knew the week ahead would be an incredible adventure.


The red dust of Tsavo 

With much excitement, we settled into our new banda and waited our first formal meeting the next morning to share the plan and purpose of our productions with the villagers.


Some of the village women 

The morning, however, was a slow start. Kasaani held a meeting which would last the majority of the day and kept most of the village leaders from joining us. Those who could be with us led a walk to the apiary where they harvest the honey we hope they can use to make beautiful products and hearty income for this community of ex-poachers.

Maritima, a strong and beautiful woman of the village, made a proud presentation of their hard work which made us feel honoured to work with such ambitious people. There would be obstacles – little of our efforts that day registered with the delay of our translators – but there would be far greater rewards, like the hugs and laughter of delight between ourselves and the villagers when both the honey vanilla bath wash and honey caramel sauce, with labels made of elephant dung recycled paper, were completed on Thursday afternoon. On that final evening, we celebrated with a special meal around the campfire with the community, under African stars.


 The Honey caramel sauce

In the intervals of our work in Kasaani, we explored more of West Tsavo and witnessed exciting wildlife, Massai villages, the beautiful and eerie Lake Chala, and the always buzzing Taveta Market. It was a different side of Africa and a part and people of Kenya we will definitely never forget.