Nairobi — It is just before dawn, and Zhuo Qiang is already on the mission: to parol with rangers at Ol Kinyei Conservancy in southwest Kenya. It has been a routine for the 43-year-old Chinese over the past three years.
“That’s Saruni. One of three males of OL Kinyei Pride here in the conservancy. He is eight years old now,” Zhuo said, pointing to a lion in the bush. Zhuo knows well about every adult lion in this 73 square kilometer conservancy, an important part of Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
“Currently, we have around 26 lions here in the conservancy, and every adult has a name,” said Zhuo, who is also called Simba, a Swahili word for lion.
According to him, there were around 200,000 lions in Africa a century ago, and now the number stands at only 30,000. In Kenya, there are less than 3,000 lions nowadays.
Zhuo’s childhood fascination with a lion-themed animation has sown the seeds for his future adventure in Africa. Harboring the love for lions from childhood, he first came to Africa in 2004 and traveled 12 African countries to learn the wildlife living condition. In 2011, he founded Mara Conservation Fund, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to protecting lions and other animals as well as saving their natural habitat.
Based in OL Kinyei Conservancy, it is also the first wildlife conservation organization run by a Chinese in Africa. Over the years, Zhuo and his foundation have been offering helping hands to the conservancy as well as the local Maasai people in a bid to save the wildlife.
On Tuesday, the organization donated a vehicle to the conservancy to facilitate anti-poaching efforts and study on the movements of big cats. This follows its donation of a motorcycle, cameras and mobile radios to the conservancy from 2012 to 2014.
It also donated four vehicles and other equipment, like GPS and spot lights, to Maasai Mara National Reserve and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 2013.
To reduce human-animal conflict, the foundation, together with the conservancy managed by Gamewatchers, has built two lion-proof bomas for Maasai families living around the conservancy.
“Maasai people may poison the lion as a revenge if it attacked their livestock. So we built the bomas for those affected families as a mean to reduce the conflict,” said the conservationist, adding the money was all from Chinese donors.
The organization has also assisted in the rescue of other sick and injured animals. In July last year, it provided vehicle for rangers to track and save an elephant from the poacher’s spear in the conservancy.
And Zhuo is not alone in helping save Africa’s wildlife. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Kenya in 2014 reiterated China’s commitment to the eradication of poaching in the African wild, and announced a grant worth 500,000 U.S. dollars for KWS to boost its anti-poaching gearing.
The Chinese Embassy in Nairobi also donated equipment worth 20, 000 dollars to aid Kenya’s war against wildlife crimes in August last year.
Chinese celebrity, former NBA star Yao Ming had came to Kenya twice in 2012 and 2013, and shot a documentary aimed at combating poaching. And in 2013, Chinese actress and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, Li Bingbing, also in Kenya joined a campaign to raise awareness on elephant protection.
Zhuo has also launched awareness campaigns in several cities in China and toured in Britain and the United States, delivering speeches on wildlife conservation. His foundation also plans to translate the Swara, a quarterly magazine on wildlife conservation, into Chinese to reach more people on wildlife protection in Africa.
Moreover, some 100 Chinese volunteers came to Kenya to work with Zhuo on conservation projects each year, and share their experiences to more Chinese back home.
“There is no border for wildlife protection, and it doesn’t matter where you contribute your share. I want to provide a platform for Chinese to give their share on global wildlife conservation,” said the conservationist.