Big Life Foundation

Project LocationAmboseli-Tsavo region, Kenya
Project TypeEndangered species protection
Endangered SpeciesAfrican elephant, lion, cheetah, black rhino
Land Area Protected10100 km2
Benefiting Locally40,000
Local People Employed300
Schools Supported7

Big Life Foundation

Big Life Foundation was founded by photographer Nick Brandt & conservationist Richard Bonham in September 2010. With Richard Bonham as Director of Operations for Big Life in Africa, and Project Manager Damian Bell in Tanzania, Big Life has now expanded to employ 315 rangers, with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of East Africa.

Big Life was the first organization in East Africa with co-ordinated cross-border anti-poaching operations.

Recognizing that sustainable conservation can only be achieved through a community-based collaborative approach, Big Life uses innovative conservation strategies to address the greatest threats, reduce the loss of wildlife to poaching, defeat the ivory trade, mitigate human-wildlife conflict, protect the great predators, and manage scarce and fragile natural resources.

Big Life’s vision is to take the successful holistic conservation model in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and replicate it across the African continent.


Big Life’s teams, operating on both sides of the Kenya/Tanzania border, now co-ordinate the pursuit and arrest of poachers as they attempt to escape across the border, something that prior to Big Life’s inception they were able to do with impunity.

This new level of co-ordinated protection for the ecosystem has brought about a major, dramatic reduction in poaching of all animals in the region. Before Big Life, on the Tanzanian side, dozens of zebras and wildebeest were being shot in bouts of sustained killing for the bush meat market. That does not happen any more. Now, lodges on that side are seeing the return of elephant herds and prides of lions for the first time in years.

Thanks to the additional critically important support of the local communities, Big Life’s teams are now apprehending poachers most times that they kill. The fact that every ranger comes from the local communities only strengthens that link between Big Life and the communities, with each helping the other in vital ways.

As a result of these successes, and with such a comprehensive bush network, Big Life has been able to quickly send out a strong message to poachers that killing wildlife now carries a far greater risk of being arrested. Amongst other achievements, a number of significant arrests of some of the worst, most prolific long-term poachers in the region have at long last been engineered by Big Life's teams.

Rhino Project

The black rhino is one of most endangered species on earth. With numbers falling from 850,000 in circa 1700, to 65,000 in 1970, to 2,410 in 1995. The remaining estimated population of just 14 rhinos that lives in the Chyulu Hills represents one of the last wild populations in Kenya (most rhino today are kept in fenced sanctuaries), and its survival is key if there is to be any hope for the future of this species in the wild. Community rangers, together with the Kenya Wildlife Service, provide 24-hour security for the small but extremely important population of elusive black rhino.

Rangers track the rhino with GPS systems, the data from which provides critical research information for the sustainability of this endangered species.

Since the start of this project, poachers have claimed only a single rhino and this small, yet valuable population is growing. 

Big Life Tracker Dogs

One of the most effective tools to an anti-poaching strategy is to deter poachers from even coming into an area. In this regard, there is no tool more effective than tracker dogs. Even if the poachers are not ambushed or stopped before the crime, they will almost definitely be caught with dogs after the crime. 

Dogs can track the trail from where poachers have killed up to one day past the event, and lead the team to the door of the poacher’s house. This is a significant deterrent : the poacher knows that nothing he can do will be able to change this. The Maasai in particular are terrified of trackers dogs, regarding them as somehow supernatural in their ability to track them down.

The Big Life tracker dogs reputation has spread and the team is often called out into National Parks to support Kenya Wildlife Service operations and into other private conservancies.

Big Life is particularly proud of the fact that their tracker dogs are the first to ever be used in Tanzania for Wildlife Conservation.

Notes from the field
Big Life has been able to quickly send out a strong message to poachers that killing wildlife now carries a far greater risk of being arrested. However, the poaching continues unabated in the areas where Big Life still has no presence. To achieve our mission, we believe that Amboseli’s ecosystem needs 160 rangers based across 18 outposts, all with accompanying patrol vehicles.

Whilst we have made substantial progress, we have a long way to go to achieve our goal and sustain operations. As the illegal demand for ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife parts continues to grow, there will be many who cannot resist the easy profits to be made out of killing these irreplaceable creatures. With yours and Tusk’s support, Big Life’s teams will continue to do everything they can to stop them.
Nick Brandt, Founder of Big Life and Photographer
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