Get to Know Big Life Foundation

 

When Big Life Foundation (Big Life) co-founder photographer Nick Brandt, visited the Amboseli elephants in July 2010, it was unlike any of his prior trips.

He had been photographing these elephants since 2002 and knew many of them on a first-name basis, but something was different from his previous visits. Elephants who had once walked by his vehicle without a care in the world would not come within half a mile of him; in fact, they would run panicked in the opposite direction. Gunshots were later reported in the area from which they came. Nick reported his experience to local authorities, but nothing was done. The existing wildlife services and NGOs in Kenya simply did not have enough resources to enforce anti-poaching laws in such a widespread area.

Nick felt a call to action, and in October 2010, he joined forces with award-winning Kenyan conservationist Richard Bonham and entrepreneur Tom Hill. Within weeks, Big Life was born. Big Life was built on the success of the existing community-based nonprofit, Maasailand Preservation Trust, which had been operating under Bonham’s leadership in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro (Greater Amboseli) ecosystem for more than two decades prior.

Big Life has grown to protect over 1.6 million acres across the Greater Amboseli ecosystem, straddling southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, including through the employment over 300 local Maasai rangers, dozens of permanent ranger outposts, mobile response units, tracker dogs, aerial support, and a vast network of informers.

Utilizing innovative conservation strategies and collaborating closely with local communities, Big Life works to address the ecosystem’s greatest threats: wildlife poaching, human-wildlife conflict, and habitat destruction. This includes protecting one of the greatest populations of elephants in East Africa, including some who carry the largest tusks left on earth.

Since inception, Big Life has dramatically reduced poaching across the ecosystem, with Big Life ranger teams facilitating over 3,000 arrests including some of the most ruthless and prolific long-term poachers in the region.

Your participation in this year’s Running Wild race will directly benefit Big Life and the incredible work they are doing to protect elephants in Kenya. Register here.

We’re In This Race, Together

© Simon Fletcher | Dreamstime.com

“Here, let me show you an example,” our Maasai guide, Konee, said, as he pulled off the dusty, red road in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem. On our game drive, we were discussing a concept I had just finished reading about in book entitled, Regenerative Development and Design. This book suggests that mutual benefit plays a more important role in the evolutionary process than has often been recognized1Mang Pamela A. and Ben Haggard, Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability, (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2016), 11-13.
Like most people, I had heard far more about the role of competition in evolution (i.e., the well-known “survival of the fittest”), so I was eager to hear Konee’s thoughts on mutually beneficial relationships because, as a Maasai, he had spent most of life in close proximity with nature.

Konee pointed toward a thorny acacia tree as he brought the Land Rover to a stop. We exited the vehicle and moved in to closely examine the tree. He told us that this particular variety was known as a “Whistling Thorn” acacia tree. The name was derived from the symbiotic relationship between the swollen, hollow thorns produced by the tree and the “cocktail” ants who puncture holes in the thorns in order to use them as a home. As the wind blows through the pierced, hollow thorns, a whistling sound is produced, and, hence, the name.2This summary was derived from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Vachellia drepanolobium,” (accessed February 18, 2019), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vachellia_drepanolobium.

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