I just arrived back home after a week in Sera, Northern Rangelands of Kenya, with the man we have come to know as, and I hope he won’t mind me saying, the Buddha of the Bush – Willie Roberts.
Born in Kenya, a huge force for good in the Kenyan tourist industry, Willie has been running safari camps since he set up his first one aged 19. His involvement in conservation and tourism is long-term, and he has been heavily involved in helping to foster constructive relationships among wildlife conservancies and human communities and the tourist industry in the Maasai Mara.
I've been fortunate to have known Willie for almost as long I've been in the business, and owe a great deal of my thinking and doing with regards to Wild Philanthropy to having had the opportunity to learn from everything he does. His aim, I know, has always been to help balance the needs of critical conservation areas with those of the people so that the land is able to provide a safe access and safe environment for animals and visitors, while at the same time ensure that its successes are as enjoyed as much by the local community as they are its other major stakeholders.
No surprise, then, that Willie enjoys fruitful relationships with the Northern Rangelands Trust and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and has an agreement – one of the first of its kind in Kenya - with Sera and Melako for a wilderness concession straddling these two conservancies. Revenue from the remote, non permanent camps Willie sets up enables communities to commit to preserving the wilderness. Everything here is centred on improving professional standards and protecting wildlife assets in the name of all who rely on the land for their living. In short, The Roberts’ operation is a perfect example of the way in which the highest levels of comfort and luxury tourism can be married to exemplary ethical standards.
Of course, visionaries aren't always the easiest of people. Not so Willie, who is one of the most welcoming of people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Host extraordinaire, his is a meticulous operation and the local knowledge and practical know-how he brings to his work never ceases to impress. He has his own workshops for his Mobile Expeditions and the crew, vehicles and the mobile tented camps he provides are second to none in terms of their design and provision. His trucks travel fully laden to the remotest of areas and provide everything you could possibly hope for – including ice for your gin and tonic on arrival. The level of detail is extraordinary. He set up one of our favourite camps here at JbD – Sirikoi Camp in Kenya’s Central Highlands, and is currently engaged in helping to secure land for local communities to protect in Lake Turkana. A good, good man.
Which is why it’s doubly lovely to see that Willie’s children have inherited their father’s strong ethical stance in relation to conservation and the importance of looking out for communities – both son and daughter have followed in the family tradition of hospitality and manage their own lodges (Richard’s River and Forest Camps in the Maasai Mara and Samatian Island Lodge respectively.
The Buddha is now Bhuddas, which for the Kenyan bush can only be for the good.