Saving the Rhinos: An Interview with a Guide from Solio Lodge, Kenya
With World Rhino Day coming up, we’re highlighting some of our partners who are doing incredible things to celebrate rhinos in their own unique ways. First up is Kenya’s Solio Lodge, home to an impressive breeding programme that has helped the lodge release 100 black and 60 white rhinoceros’ back into the wild.
An exquisite lodge with stunning panoramic views, Solio Lodge is the only property nestled between Mount Kenya and the rolling peaks of the Aberdare mountains within a 19,000 acre private reserve. Originally a ranch used for beef cattle, this lodge has done a complete 360 and is now an industry-leading conservation pioneer.
Solio Game Reserve’s rhino protection work is world-leading, and the lodge is internationally recognised as the most successful rhinoceros breeding reserve in Kenya. The main purpose of the game reserve is to provide a refuge for wildlife who would otherwise be deprived of a suitable habitat, so hundreds of rhinos have been relocated from this incredible property. Solio is an immensely important part of the wildlife conservation efforts sweeping across Kenya, but the lodge gives back to the local community too, through supporting local schools and community projects.
Sometimes, it really is the people who make a place. Second only to the lodge’s incredible rhinos are the guides, the life and soul of Solio Lodge. We caught up with Lmeii Lekashira, better known as Ole, who is one of the knowledgeable guides taking guests out on game drives around Solio Private Reserve. For the past eight years, Ole – originally from Narok near the Maasai Mara – has worked as a safari guide, and he has been based at Solio Lodge since 2012. Here’s what we found out.
What makes working at Solio special to you?
“The rhino population makes Solio special, as there’s both black and white rhinos here. They are well-protected by the reserve, and as a result they are abundant throughout the land. The richness of the game is also a product of the reserve’s size – at just 45,000 acres, the animals are always close by.”
Where did your journey as a guide begin?
“I started as a spotter, as I was passionate about animals and wildlife. I wanted to teach people about our country and the beauty of our heritage. I had to start at the beginning, as a wildlife spotter, to gain the experience of driving guests and understanding what it is they wanted to see. After some time and lots of training, I progressed to become a driver and a guide.”
What does your job as a guide involve on a day to day basis?
“I guide clients and teach them about the wildlife, and we track the animals on guided walks too. Even when we’re driving, we’re looking for the prints of the animals to see where they’ve been and see if we can find them. I’m conscious of the importance of conserving the land too, and teach people the importance of conservation for future generations. As guides, we must be sure not to destroy the environment with cars. We must understand the animals and their environment.”
Are there any particularly memorable moments you have had as a guide?
“There was a time when a client wanted to see a kill. We were lucky and came across a group of six male lions eating a zebra – the client was so scared of what he saw, he didn’t sleep all night!”
Have you faced any challenges in your role as a guide?
“Becoming a guide did initially pose its challenges, with the task of communicating solely in English and understanding the unique needs of each of the guests who had travelled from different countries around the world. Guiding is the reward that keeps on giving though, with sightings of the reserve’s many rhinos, buffalos, lions, zebras, impalas and waterbucks an almost daily occurrence. “
Do you have any advice about how to get the most out of a game drive?
“I just assure people that they will enjoy the experience and be safe, and always remind them that they must bring good binoculars for sightings and a camera to really capture the scenery. On all of our game drives, learning about the wildlife is most important – you can learn from the teaching that we have, and the symbiotic relationship that animals have, that is not too distant from our own.”
Find out more about our positive impact properties...
- Grootbos Private Reserve$$$$$Perfectly poised on the headland between two bays and at the heart of what is considered the ‘whale watching Mecca’ of the world, the 2,500-hectare Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is well-positioned to enjoy the area’s thrilling to its more relaxing of activities. Part of what makes Grootbos extra special is the property’s commitment to making a positive impact through various projects. From diving with great white sharks, horse riding on wild Atlantic beaches, spotting whales and pods of dolphin cavorting in Walker Bay to tasting regional wines, discovering the unique heritage of towns such as De Kelders and Hermanus, and trekking through the intriguing fynbos flora and fauna of its reserves and valleys – you won’t be short of things to do here on the Whale Coast and at Grootbos. For budding botanists, the reserve encompasses a vast swathe of the beautiful Cape Floristic Region, the smallest of earth’s six recognised floral kingdoms. There are two fabulous places to stay here – the homely Garden Lodge and contemporary Forest Lodge – as well as two fabulous Private Villas, all of which admire incredible vistas to the sea and mountains.
- Solio Lodge$$$$$The only property nestled within a 19,000 acre private wildlife sanctuary and surrounded by the 45,000 acres of the wider Solio Ranch, Solio Lodge’s location is idyllic, with sweeping views across the plains towards Mount Kenya, and when it comes to spotting rhino, you’re in prime position. This is largely due to the fact that it’s the most successful private rhinoceros breeding reserve in Kenya. The lodge features five glass-fronted cottages made from stone and thatch, each with an open fireplace and a large patio, ideal for armchair game viewing and private meals. One of the cottages has two en-suite bedrooms, making it ideal for families. There is a communal mess area where guests can relax with a glass of wine and a good book, and look out across the Solio Reserve. The grounds are home to a kitchen garden where vegetables and herbs are harvested and used in the lodge’s sophisticated menu. Of course, the big draw in Solio is the opportunity to see black and white rhino. The breeding programme here is one of the most successful of its kind and being able to witness these conservation efforts in person is a wonderful experience. As well as rhino, the reserve is home to giraffes, impalas, zebras, buffalos as well as larger predators such as lions and leopards. As well as morning and afternoon game drives, guests can enjoy horse riding, cycling, visits to the local communities and coffee farm or go trout fishing in nearby Aberdere National Park.
- Cottar's 1920s Safari Camp$$$$$Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp is located within a beautiful community-owned concession close to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the Kenyan border, a timeless setting with incredible views over the game covered plains that surround it. Adding an extra layer to this camp is the fact that is closely involved with local community and conservation efforts, meaning that your stay is benefitting many. The camp itself, unashamedly colonial in style with dark woods, swathes of canvas and antique pieces, is made up of ten tents, spaced out to ensure privacy. Of the ten, four are family suites with their own living rooms and fireplaces and there also a unique honeymoon suite. All have en suite showers and safari baths and showers can be set up in the savannah for unforgettable ablutions. Two main mess tents sit at the heart of Cottar’s with areas for fine dining, drinking, reading and relaxing. There’s also a swimming pool and spa. The Cottar family have decades of experience here and they count the highest number of Gold (the highest professional level) Safari Guides within one camp in Kenya, each chosen for their unique skillset and personalities, meaning a safari here, whether on foot or game drives, is always a fantastic. Cultural interaction with the local Maasai community, with whom the Cottars have worked in partnership with for years, is authentic and not at all touristy. The award-winning camp also has some of the highest ecotourism ratings going.