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This post is going to be a bit different from my normal biking-related Two Wheeled Wanderer blogs, but it’s something that I feel really strongly about. As part of my raffle win to Tanzania, which included an entry into the K2N Stage Race, I got to spend 3 days at the amazing Grumeti Game Reserve in Northern Tanzania.
This Reserve, which is privately funded, is a non-profit organization that is committed to “contributing to the conservation of the Serengeti ecosystem for future generations.”
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from my visit, but I left totally impressed, inspired, and a bit more optimistic. I say a ‘bit more’ because the wildlife and ecosystems in Tanzania – and Africa as a continent – are very much at risk, with some species literally on the brink of extinction.
I won’t pretend that I’m an expert or that I’m a part of the solution, but I do want to share my experience because I learned a lot, especially about how complex conservation really is. Perhaps this will inspire others to chip in where they can whether that be by making a donation or simply sharing this post so others can learn about what the Grumeti Fund is doing and the importance of their work.
Read about my experience at the Grumeti Game Reserve in Tanzania and learn about the importance of conservation work in Africa
And immense thank you to Matt Perry and all the staff at the Grumeti Fund who made our visit possible. It was incredible!
What is the Grumeti Game Reserve & Fund?
The Grumeti Game Reserve
The Grumeti Game Reserve is a 350,000-acre swath of land that sits on the northwestern border of the Serengeti National Park. The Reserve was created by the Tanzanian government in 1994 to help protect the wildebeest migration route, which is considered to be one of the most phenomenal natural spectacles in the world.
Just after the rainy season (June-August depending on the year), more than 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and Thompson gazelle make a 300-mile loop through the Serengeti and the Grumeti Game Reserve. Their main mission? To feed on the new vegetation that has sprouted up following the rainy season. Along the way, these animals:
- Fertilize the land with their manure
- Keep grasses short, which minimizes fires. Fewer fires = more trees and more trees provide healthy habitats for many species
- Provide food for predators
- Help with pollination of some plant species through trampling
Without conserved land like the Grumeti Game Reserve, the wildebeest migration would not endure and the entire ecosystem would collapse.
For a good overview of how the wildebeest play a key role in keeping the Serengeti ecosystem healthy, this is a great short clip from PBS.
The Grumeti Fund
In 2002, management of the Grumeti Game Reserve was handed off to the Grumeti Fund. This non-profit is privately funded mainly through the generous donations of one family. (However, the goal is to someday make the organization as self-sustaining as possible).
The Grumeti Fund employs over 165 staff – many from the local communities surrounding the Reserve – who are committed to the conservation of this land and its wildlife as well as the development and empowerment of the people who live there.
THE GRUMETI FUND MISSION
The mission of the Grumeti Fund is to collaboratively contribute to the conservation of the Serengeti ecosystem and the upliftment of local communities.
In partnership with the Tanzanian government and other key stakeholders, we promote conservation best practices and knowledge sharing to optimize impact.
Over the last 15 years, the Grumeti Fund has helped revive the Serengeti ecosystem from near-barren plains to a land that now teems with wildlife.
While they have had big successes in restoring the natural habitat, the Grumeti Game Reserve and the Serengeti still face huge challenges, such as poaching, which drive the five pillars of the Grumeti Fund’s work today.
The 5 Pillars behind the Grumeti Fund’s Work
Most people know that conservation in Africa is a big concern. In fact, a lot of people associate Africa with conservation work. There’s a reason for that. The natural ecosystems in Africa are dwindling and along with them, the wildlife.
To help preserve the Serengeti environment, the Grumeti Fund works with the government and local communities to help preserve these natural habitats and wildlife that rely on them.
A recent conservation project was to relocate 9 Eastern Black Rhinos back into the area to help increase the genetic pool and hopefully save the species from extinction.
I had the pleasure of meeting Zaituni during my visit, who is an orphaned Black Rhino that has spent the last three years growing up at Grumeti Game Reserve. The hope is to one day, rewild her and release her back into her home environment. She’s curious, goofy, and intelligent!
She also has 24/7 protection from 3 armed guards. Rhino poaching is a big problem in East Africa.
Other conservation initiatives the Grumeti Fund works on include:
- Alien plant management (i.e. invasive species removal)
- Wildfire management with controlled burns
- Removing snares from animals that were not killed from the traps
I’m going to start this section by saying that poaching is a very complex issue in Africa. It doesn’t stem from a desire to kill an animal. Rather, it happens because there is a need to feed a family whether that’s from direct money from selling meat or animal ‘trophies’ or preventing an animal from destroying crops. If caught, poachers can get life in jail.
Poaching is a BIG problem in Tanzania. Thousands of animals are killed each year for bushmeat, ivory, and rhino horns (which have zero medicinal properties despite Traditional Chinese Medicine beliefs).
During my visit to the Grumeti Fund, we got an inside look into the anti-poaching department and it was seriously impressive. Headed up by ex-military personnel, Wesley Gold, the anti-poaching branch of Grumeti Fund involves:
- An armed scout team that is on the ground patrolling the Grumeti Game Reserve via camps spread throughout the area. Many of these scouts used to be poachers themselves and now they help remove snares.
- A Special Operations Group within the scout team that is highly trained and tasked with confronting the most serious threats to Grumeti’s wildlife. Kabichi is one of these men. He rode the K2N Stage Race with us and he has literally put his life on the line to save animals. He was shot with a poison arrow by a poacher, attacked by a lion who was cornered by farmers/livestock herders (he was trying to prevent them from killing the lion), and slashed over the head with a machete by family members of a poacher who was sentenced to prison.
- An Operations Room headed up by Alina, who also rode the K2N with us. Here, staff use technology to track pretty much everything that goes on in the Grumeti Game Reserve from the movements of collared elephants to recent arrests of poachers to discovered snare locations.
- A Joint Intelligence Unit that relies on a network in local communities to provide information on poachers in the area.
- A canine unit and their skilled handlers that are specially trained to track poachers. These dogs came from Working Dogs for Conservation out of Montana.
3. Community Outreach
“It’s not just about wildlife, but it’s actually more about people”Matt Perry, General Manager of Anti-Poaching & Conservation
Unlike many conservation programs and initiatives, The Grumeti Fund realizes that in order to save the wildlife and protect their habitats, we need to work with the local communities. This means providing them with the tools, education, and support to live – and thrive – in balance with the natural world.
The UPLIFT program at Grumeti Fund (Unlocking Prosperous Livelihoods for Tomorrow) takes a three-pronged approach to community outreach:
- Providing opportunities to youth for higher education through scholarships. Grumeti Fund also has an Environmental Education Center, which hosts students from the local communities to learn about environmental issues that affect their own lives and how they can effect change.
- Providing education and support for income-generating opportunities such as beekeeping, tailoring, or opening a restaurant (all success stories from Grumeti’s Enterprise Development program).
- Promoting the peaceful coexistence of wildlife and humans and demonstrating how wildlife is an important part of Tanzania’s eco-system and future.
We visited the Environmental Education Center (EEC) during our visit and got to chat a bit with the teacher, Laurian Lamatus, as well as the students that were there for the week to learn about conservation and why it’s important.
We also met Riziki Moremi, who works in the RISE Center (see below) and was one of the Grumeti Fund scholarship recipients given to local students. This scholarship allowed him to get higher education and come back to work for Grumeti.
4. Research & Monitoring
Not surprisingly, Grumeti also has a branch that focuses on research and monitoring the ecosystem within the Grumeti Game Reserve. This center is called RISE (Research and Innovation for the Serengeti Ecosystem) and the staff help to bridge the gap between scientific research and management decisions within the Reserve.
From taking soil samples to tracking the movement of elephants, the data that the researchers collect helps the Grumeti Fund make the best decisions for the wildlife and surrounding communities.
What the Grumeti Fund is doing and accomplishing is amazing, but it’s important to note that they work with many other organizations, communities, and governments to make it all happen.
One of their unique partnerships is with Singita, a luxury safari lodge brand from South Africa “dedicated to environmentally conscious hospitality, sustainable conservation, and the empowerment of local communities.”
Singita has lodges all over Africa and they operate the Sasakwa Lodge at Grumeti as well as manage the staff accommodations and canteen. The lodge is absolutely beautiful and very much out of my price range.
Singita hires from the local communities around Grumeti and even has professional development programs for their employees. For example, the food at the staff canteen where we ate our meals was prepared by ‘students’ that are learning how to cook for high-end safari lodges.
I’ve traveled the world, I’ve even spent a year in Kenya and Tanzania as a study abroad student in college, but my short visit to the Grumeti Game Reserve was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had while traveling.
It was really eye-opening to see the behind-the-scenes operations of the Grumeti Fund and how they really have taken a comprehensive approach to conservation that doesn’t just focus on saving the wildlife and their habitat, but also on uplifting and empowering the communities that surround this special place.
I left with a better understanding of how complex conservation really is and while we – as a world – need to make BIG changes in order to save endangered species like the Black Rhino, it’s encouraging to know that there are places like Grumeti that have people working around the clock to make the world a better place.
How you can help
Make a donation
The Grumeti Fund is privately funded and they accept (and appreciate!) any donations. You can choose to do a one-time donation or set up a recurring monthly amount. Grumeti has partnered with the US-based non-profit African Community & Conservation Foundation, so any donations are tax-deductible.
Working Dogs for Conservation is another place to donate. The four dogs that make up the canine team at Grumeti were in line to be euthanized. Their lives were literally saved by this organization and now they help save the lives of animals in Tanzania.
Sponsor a child’s education
Education is the path out of poverty. It can also break the cycle of needing to poach for a living. Grumeti offers scholarships to the kids in the local community, so if you make a donation, you can add a note that you want your money to go to the scholarship fund.
There are also numerous other organizations like Save The Children that you can sponsor a child through for just $39 a month.
Share this blog post and/or videos
Getting the word out about the Grumeti Fund and the conservation work their doing is one of the best ways you can help. Spread the word by sharing this post or the videos that you found most impactful.
Visit the Grumeti Fund
You can visit the Grumeti Fund as a guest. The Sasakwa Lodge is very beautiful and very expensive. The main reason it is so exclusive is to attract donors who can help keep the Grumeti Fund going.
It’s so easy to shelter ourselves from bigger issue happening around the world. I’m guilty of this myself. Somedays, it all feels so overwhelming. But change needs to happen and in order for us to leave the world a better place, we need to keep learning and take action. Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful
- Poached – This book is a journalistic dive into the dark world of wildlife trafficking. It describes the driving forces behind poaching, how it’s impacting our ecosystems, and what people are doing to stop the unnecessary killing of these wild animals.
- A Life On Our Planet – This documentary by David Attenborough is his ‘witness statement’ of the changes he’s seen over his incredible career traveling the world and documenting wild areas. I found it very powerful.
- Sign up for Grumeti’s email newsletter to get updates on what’s happening at the Grumeti Game Reserve
- Get involved with the World Wildlife Fund
What questions do you have about the Grumeti Fund or the Grumeti Game Reserve? Did you learn anything new from reading this? Leave a comment below!