Meet Lpanuini Lenarum, 38, poacher turned keeper at community owned elephant sanctuary

Lpanuni Lenarum, 38, a former animal poacher turned keeper at the Rereti Community Conservancy. [James Wanzala/Standard]
For eight years, Lpanuni Lenarum poached wildlife mercilessly. Mr Lenarum was in a group of eight poachers that hunted down impalas and antelopes in games parks and national reserves in Samburu County.

The poachers would consume part of the meat and sell the rest. In his own words, poaching was all he did.

Lenarum, 38, said he never feared Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, who would once in a while foil their plans. They would see the rangers from the hills and quickly hide in the gorges until they left before going back to their illegal activities.

But in 2014, Lenarum saw the light after meeting a group of conservationists who convinced him that protecting wild animals was a better way to live.

Help efforts

Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) conservationists, led by Philip Lelelit, wanted someone who could help their efforts. They looked for Lenarum after the community recommended him due to his knowledge of the area.

“I was once a poacher but today, I am a keeper of elephants, a task I have performed for one-and-a-half years and which I enjoy,” he said.

Mr Lelelit, a rangers trainer at NRT, picked Lenarum because he understood the local terrain. But his friends did not join him and are still engaged in poaching.

Lenarum is now among 47 wildlife keepers at Reteti Conservancy, a community-owned elephant sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates baby elephants before releasing them into the wild.

The sanctuary has 14 calves and a black baby rhino. The animals were either neglected, orphaned due to poaching or abandoned after they got stuck in mud.

The Trust supports 35 community conservancies in northern Kenya.

The sanctuary, incorporated to Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy Trust two years ago, has been championing the conservation of wildlife.

And as the world celebrated World Rangers Day on Tuesday, Reteti Conservancy also celebrated Lenarum for his bold move to abandon poaching and his role in conserving wildlife.

The event was marked as Kenyans mourned the deaths of 10 rhinos as they were being moved from Nairobi and Nakuru national parks to Tsavo East National Park to ease congestion, which officials said was affecting breeding.

The Standard team was introduced to Lenarum by Lelelit, who is also a trainer at 51 Degrees, an organisation specialising in training the local community in the protection of wildlife.

We were keen to know how the former poacher went about his job as a wildlife protector. So Lenarum took us to Kitagess Hills, a few metres from Reteti Conservancy. He is not afraid of the wild.

“This is my home area. It was once my territory of operation as a poacher. We were a team of eight poachers. We worked well together and no day ended without a catch,” he said.

“These hills are perfect for spotting poachers because of the elevated view of the terrain. You can see everything from here.”

I was gasping for breath by the time we reached the top of the hill. Lenarum on the other hand had not broken a sweat.

From here, we were able to have a panoramic view of the valley with its green thorny trees extending to meet the blue skies on the horizon.

Moving object

Suddenly, Lenarum pointed to a white moving object. “You see that? It is a cow, one cow. Look, there is a herder with a red 'shuka' (wrapper) behind it.”

It took me some time to spot the cow.

“This is how we would spot wildlife and pounce at the opportune time. And if the game is coming towards us, we quickly descend into the gorge and hide,” he said.

"We have seen the need to embrace conservation as it is more beneficial," he added as we joined his wife and three sons for a cup of tea in their manyatta.

"I am also happy that my children are now going to school courtesy of the community conservancies."

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Lpanuni LenarumpoachingKenya Wildlife ServiceTsavo East National Park