Kenya has lost one of its greatest ambassadors for wildlife conservation, Mr. Willie Roberts (pictured left). Mara Elephant Project would not exist if it were not for the visionary efforts taken by Willie, the forefather of wildlife conservation in the Maasai Mara.
We are so sorry to let you know that our lovely Dad, Husband and Grandpa left on his last safari on Friday the 26th of January after a short but hard fight against cancer. Just as he left us, back home, a pride of lion went roaring through Sirikoi! We are returning to Kenya this week and will soon have a gathering to celebrate his amazing life and character. We will let you all know once we have set a date and place. Thank you so much for the all the amazing messages and support we have received over this last week.
A public statement from Willie’s family: Richard, Caro and Sue
Willie was born and raised in Kenya where his parents David and Betty lived most of their lives on the shores of Lake Baringo. David pioneered safaris in Northern Kenya and was regularly asked to organize and lead safaris for dignitaries like Prince Philip.
A young Willie with David. Photo courtesy of Roberts Safaris.
In the 1980s, Willie and Sue moved to the Maasai Mara with the intentions of setting up a farm, but they soon realized the land was better suited for wildlife. He was the first in the Maasai Mara to convert his land into a conservancy that the neighboring Maasai landowners could collect wildlife-based income from; he called it Ol Chorro Oiroua Group Ranch. His involvement in conservation and tourism was ahead of its time; he realized that fostering a relationship among wildlife conservancies, local communities and the tourist industry in the Maasai Mara was what was necessary to sustain the precious ecosystem.
“Mr. Willie Roberts came to the Mara in 1980 and farmed sunflower, wheat, and maize, but after seeing a gap in the protection of wildlife he soon became a full-time conservationist and naturalist. It wasn’t long before Willie was designated a KWS Warden for the areas surrounding the Maasai Mara. In 1991, he singlehandedly brokered a deal with the Paramount Chief Ole Ntutu and Former Kenyan President Arap Moi to make the first conservancy named Ol Choro Oiroua Group Ranch. That same year the High Court of Kenya decreed that all of the group ranches surrounding the Maasai Mara National Reserve could collect tourism revenue independently of the Narok County Government; this was the birth of conservancies in Kenya.” MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss
Willie didn’t stop there, he went on to establish the Mara North Conservancy in an area that was known for its rampant poaching and hunting. He established the first anti-poaching patrols that became the blueprint for conservation models, like MEP’s, all over the world.
“Willie worked hard to make Ol Choro a world-class conservancy putting in infrastructure for rangers and implementing wildlife management techniques. He then founded the famous Mara Conservancy in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.” MEP C.E.O. Marc Goss
After the Mara, Willie and Sue Roberts headed to Northern Kenya and founded Sirikoi (pictured left), known as one of Africa’s top luxury safari destinations neighboring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. From its conception, Sirikoi has nurtured a strong commitment and passion for conservation through the protection of endangered species, the support of community conservation and development programs that educate the local community on the value of wildlife. This model has become Kenya’s leading one for wildlife conservation and low-impact community tourism.
Willie’s son, Richard Roberts, MEP co-founder and trustee, continued his father’s legacy in the Mara with Richard’s Camp, a luxury camp located in the Mara North Conservancy that remains one of the most successful in the Mara. Richard, having learned his love of nature and the importance of conservation from Willie, began working closely with local communities to help them understand the crucial importance of conserving their wildlife.
Richard Roberts leading a safari in the Mara.
On January 12, the whole MEP team gathered at HQ to observe a minute of silence in remembrance of Willie Roberts.
“Without Willie MEP would not have our project. We’ve applied his vision to the MEP mission.” MEP Founder Suzanne Fehsenfeld
MEP Founder Suzanne Fehsenfeld with Willie and her husband Fred.