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SOS Rhino : In the News : Articles : Lewa Wildlife Conservatory

Lewa Wildlife Conservatory


       The following article was written by Mike Skidmore, Animal Keeper at Lincoln Park Zoo (LPZ), located in Chicago, Illinois. In 1987 Mike started volunteering at Lincoln Park Zoo as a docent. In 1994 he secured a position as an animal keeper in LPZís Childrenís Zoo. There he worked for three years in the nursery where he helped raise two injured orangutans and a gorilla. Throughout his career at LPZ, Mike has worked with a variety of species including primates, small mammals, reptiles, elephants, and RHINOS.

Mike held the position of President of the Lincoln Park Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) in 1998 and 1999 and the position of Treasurer, 1997-2001. In addition to his position at Lincoln Park Zoo, Mike is working toward an anthropology degree at Northeastern University.

This article is a follow-up to an article titled ³Lincoln Park Zoo Chapter of AAZK hold 13th Annual Bowling for Rhinos Fundraiser²,  which Mike submitted for posting on SOS Rhino's web site in August 2002.


By:  Mike Skidmore

    After 12 years of attending, supporting and helping to organize our local Bowling for Rhinos event, which helps support the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Isiolo, Kenya, I finally made it to Kenya to see the rhinos we are helping first hand.  I went with mixed feelings, we left just a few short weeks after the loss of Dr. Annelisa and having worked with her she was on my mind the whole time I was in Africa.  I work at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and our zookeeper organization, the American Association of Zookeepers has chapters all over the United States and Canada that hold annual Bowling for Rhino's events.  Overall we have raised over 1.5 million dollars, and our Lincoln Park Chapter around $110,000 of that.  All the money raised goes to rhino conservation projects.  Lewa is one of the success stories in Kenya.  They work closely with the government and the local communities are an essential part of their success.  At the moment they have over 30 white rhinos and over 30 black rhinos in residence.  The population has reached the point that they are transferring rhinos to other protected areas around Kenya. 

    It would be almost impossible to relate in words how beautiful Lewa is, the amount of wildlife is incredible.  After the first 2 days, you almost get tired of seeing Grevy zebra, waterbuck and giraffes.  We got up close and personal with rhinos almost every day, sometimes within 10-20 feet.  White rhino were everywhere, with many youngsters.  Black rhino sightings were rarer, they were higher up in the forest areas, but due to the heavy rains the roads were treacherous so we couldn't go up there.  After seeing rhinos in captivity, seeing them with endless lands and sky behind them left us all in awe.  Other animals we saw in abundance were impala, warthogs, elephants, kudo and water buffalo.  We saw hyena (but heard them every night, it seemed right outside our tents), lions, leopards, cheetah, mongoose, hedgehogs, sitatunga, ostrich, oryx, bushbabies, hyrax and lizards. 

The number of birds, especially large birds like cranes, egrets, hawks and bustards was just incredible.  Possibly due to the rains laster longer than usual, the landscape was dotted with dozens of large birds, spread out like a small army.  We met Simon, one of the hosts of Big Cat Diaries on Animal Planet who is raising 2 orphaned cheetahs with the hopes of returning them to the wild.  He takes them out walking and uses cheetah calls to alert them to dangers.  Watch for them on a future show. 

    The rhinos on Lewa are the only animals that do not ever leave the park.  The location of every rhino in Kenya is known to the government and protected.  Though the rhino's are the reason the conservancy was started, years ago as Ngare Sergoi, their approach is help protect everything in the area.  Lewa employs numerous local people including well trained guards and rangers and support schools in the area.  No rhino has every been poached in Lewa, though recently rhinos were killed in the nearby Solio Ranch and Nakuru National Park.  Lewa is fenced in, with an opening on one side for animals to come and go.  I was told that when the elephants leave, they instinctively know when they enter an unprotected area and speed up and do not slow down till they reach another protected area.  If there ever was a place you would be almost guaranteed to see rhinos in the wild, Lewa is it.  Check out for more information and you can email me at for more information on Bowling For Rhinos.

Patty Pearthree, Bowling For Rhinos Coordinator and Mike Skidmore, Animal Keeper at  Lincoln Park Zoo,  Chicago, IL

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