The Safaricom Lewa Marathon is only a few days away. On the 25th of June, Lewa will be a busy place as both local and international athletes and other fun loving Kenyans head down to the marathon which has been getting bigger and better every year. The money raised in the marathon is used to support Lewa’s projects which include education, water and conservation.
A couple of weeks back I was at Lewa Conservancy to see how the money raised during the marathon is used. As we were taken to different places around the huge Lewa conservancy one of the interesting people I met was John Pameri. John Pameri is the head of General Security and has been at Lewa for 23 years. John’s father was unable to pay his fees so he walked over 100 Kilometres to Lewa (then known as the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary) to search for a job. He started out as a Ranger and has risen through the ranks to become the Head of General Security. Lewa recently sponsored him to go to South Africa to get a Private Pilot License from Pietermariztburg Flight Training Centre.
What is the job of general security at Lewa?
We manage the teams based in different camps inside Lewa and we also support NRT-the conservancies outside Lewa on the Northern Kenya region. We offer support such as flying our vets there to go and treat sick animals.
How many people are in your team?
I have about 100 in my team, in this team we have different sections, we have Rhino team, gatemen, night guards, orphan keepers, radio operators and we also work closely with our anti-poaching unit.
How do you work with the communities to stop poaching?
I think the main thing we need to be looking at is not really to have firearms to stop poaching and all these kinds of technologies, but at the main thing that Lewa has applied and succeed in to stop poaching, which is involving the communities around. They are really benefiting a lot from Lewa so that is our first line of defense. Because we can get information of anybody trying to come to Lewa and alert the authorities before they arrive and commit any crimes.
There is so much going on in this room? Tell us about it
Where we are right now is our operation room, it runs 24hrs. We have seven radio operators and three shifts, each shift has two people. We have two big screens used to monitor our wildlife in the field and our patrol teams for the Rhinos. The radio operator can be able to link where the animals are in the field so as to deploy the patrol teams to keep an eye.
How has it been having the Safaricom Lewa Marathon here?
I think the Safaricom Lewa Marathon is a unique one around the world, because this is marathon you do in a park where you have all the big five. The big worry is that people fear that they could get attacked by a Lion while running but this is the 17th marathon being held and so far there has been no incident of a wild animal attacking anyone, it has been safe and we have a lot of support from the Government, Police, KWS and other partners.
All people within Lewa community look forward to it every year and have the marathon in their hearts. Also, the people coming from abroad not only run the marathon but also get to view the wildlife. We think of it more as running with wildlife. We are proud of it and happy of the support from Government and Safaricom. We hope to have more in the future because it brings the community together, brings the tourist and promotes conservation of wildlife and the environment.
How is security during the marathon?
Many partners come on board to ensure security, such as Safaricom security team, Brigs, KWS, Security Groups Africa, and GSU. They control the big numbers of people; more than 1,400 runners and over 5,000 spectators, from clashing with the animals.
There might be people worried about coming into contact with the animals while running. What measures are in place for their protection.
In terms of the routes which should be used by runners, we have two teams; one team is dedicated to ensure the route is safe and there is no wildlife on the route, and the other team directs the spectators and the runners on the routes they should stick to. We also have a wildlife team which uses a helicopter to ward off animals that stray into the runners’ route and pushes them away to a safe distance.
The past 16 marathons have all been good on the security side and we pray it continues like that.