The Milgis Trust is a Kenyan non-profit organisation that was set up by Helen Douglas Dufresne in 2004, to protect the wildlife, habitat and pastoral peoples’ way of life in this stunning and very remote part of northern Kenya.
Located within the drainage of the Matthews (Lenkiyou) Range and Ndoto Mountains, the Trust’s core operations are centred on the Mighty Milgis Lugga which flows northeast between the two mountain ranges onto the flatlands of the Kaisut Desert where is disappears below the surface in an inland delta. The area is semi-arid, of outstanding beauty and supports a diversity of wildlife – both plants and animals – as well as the pastoral livelihoods of several nomadic peoples – the Samburu, Turkana and Rendille. Helen with her partner, Pete Ilsley and the Trust’s Manager, Moses Supukan Lesoloyia, run the Trust from Elkanto hill where the Seiya and Parsaloi Luggas join to form the Mighty Milgis Lugga. These three rivers and their tributaries are the lifelines for the people and wildlife of the Milgis Ecosystem.
At the heart of the Trust’s work is the return of the elephants, having completely disappeared from north of the Milgis due to devastatingly high levels of poaching and deforestation during the 1970s-1980s, into the 1990s, which almost wiped the wildlife out. Today, the core area of the Trust’s work covers about 6,000 km2 and is spreading steadily northwards as the elephants make their return to Mounts Nyiru and Kulal to the north. Wildlife and the pastoral peoples have no borders and, uniquely, the Trust aims to maintain the area as a holistically functioning ecosystem without fences or segregation between the wildlife and the local pastoral communities.
A key aspect of the Milgis Trust’s work is the team of 31 scouts/rangers and 33 Lkiramats
(community informers) that monitor and protect the wildlife. All the scouts are members of the local Samburu communities, and it is due to their vigilance, presence on the ground – keeping a very serious check on poachers and indiscriminate traders entering the area – and daily interaction with their own communities that the wildlife is again valued and so gradually returning to the Milgis. Moses Lesoloyia, the Milgis Trust manager is himself a Samburu, and has great belief in the pastoral peoples as natural conservationists. With his gentle encouragement, things are turning around. The most important thing is that the elephants are again living in the Milgis in peace, and in spite of the current horrendous upsurge in poaching and the very high prices being paid for ivory.
As well as the elephant, the Milgis is also supporting other key species, including greater and lesser kudu, the critically endangered Grevy’s zebra, DeBrazza’s monkey, desert warthog and many of the large predators, particularly lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, jackal and the highly endangered African wild dog.
Helen and Pete with their loyal Samburu crew, have been operating Wild Frontiers (www.wildfrontierskenya.com) walking safaris throughout these beautiful mountains for the last 25 years, using camels for back up. As a result, they know the area and its amazing people extremely well and have become trusted, probably more than any other in the region, having worked hard to create a rapport and understanding with the communities. Not surprisingly, they felt it would have been ‘absolutely irresponsible’ not to start the Milgis Trust to both help the communities and protect the wildlife.
It is Helen, Pete and Moses’ continued presence on the ground that sustains this trusting relationship and encourages and promotes the successful implementation of community projects, as well as the Trust's ongoing field operations – carried out in partnership with Marwell Wildlife (www.marwell.org.uk/conservation).
The Milgis Trust’s community work includes a range of initiatives within health and education. These include providing clean drinking water to remote communities in this arid landscape; restoring the government health dispensary at Latakwen and employing a full-time nurse and assistant so day-to-day health issues are addressed; and running eye missions about every two years. The Trust has built and maintains a primary school and three Nursery schools, and currently sponsors 35 children through secondary school and further education. It also trains local communities in animal husbandry and livestock management.