The eagerly awaited all-terrain vehicle to replace the 70-year old-iconic brand will not have its global launch until September. As such the discrete exercise to get the prototype vehicle out to Kenya was entrusted to another of Tusk’s longstanding corporate partners, DHL.
“This year marks Tusk’s Year of the Lion,” explains Charlie Mayhew, “Our aim is to raise awareness of the alarming decline in lion populations right across Africa and this high profile media initiative with Land Rover has given us a superb opportunity not only to show case the work of Borana, but highlight the plight of Africa’s big cats.”
Three-quarters of lion populations on the continent are in decline with fewer than 20,000 of the big cats left in the wild – a figure that has declined from 200,000 over the last century.
For Land Rover, the aim of the test was to demonstrate the vehicle’s supreme capability and durability over some of Africa’s most extreme terrain whilst supporting Tusk’s conservation work across the combined land that make up the Borana and Lewa Conservancies.
As part of field tests, the New Defender was thrown into the action to lead on a dramatic initiative to find a male lion so it could be darted and re-collared.
Within the Borana & Lewa landscapes there are a number of prides and tracking and monitoring their movements across this vast environment is vital in order to protect them and reduce any conflict with neighbouring communities and their livestock.
“The Lion is Kenya’s national animal, so it’s intertwined with us as a people”, says Wanjiku Kinuthia, Communications Officer for Lewa & Borana. “On Borana, we have a team that’s dedicated to tracking and monitoring lions, and they have to be able to go where the lions go, to monitor them, track their activities and make sure they’re safe.”
The darting exercise, which was filmed by the Land Rover team, was led by renowned KWS vet Dr Matthew Mutinda and the team from Lion Landscapes, an organisation also supported by Tusk. The large male lion was found in particularly thick bush, but nothing the New Defender could not handle. Once darted by Dr Mutinda from the safety of the vehicle, the team swiftly got to work taking blood samples and measurements as they fitted a new satellite GPS collar to the huge lion, which has now been affectionately christened ‘Defender’!
“Borana was the perfect place to test the new Defender, simply because it’s got incredible diversity in terrain,” adds Charlie Mayhew. “The vehicle took everything in its stride, from deep river wading to climbing rocky trails. We are delighted that Land Rover chose to partner with Tusk on such an important phase of its testing programme.”
“Wildlife photography is all about access – about getting yourself in the best position – so you need a vehicle that can reach inaccessible places,” says David Yarrow, the renowned photographer and long-time supporter of Tusk, who was asked to join the crew to capture a series of images of the New Defender at Borana. He adds, “Defender has been synonymous with adventure and conservation since the first Land Rover debuted in 1948, so it’s fitting that one of the first official tasks for New Defender has been to shine a light on the dangers faced by lions in Africa.”
Nick Collins, Engineering Vehicle Line Director, Jaguar Land Rover, said: “‘We are now in the advanced stages of the new Defender’s testing and development phase. Working with our partners at Tusk in Kenya enabled us to gather valuable performance data. The Borana reserve features a wide range of challenging environments, making it a perfect place to test to the extreme the all-terrain attributes of the new Defender.”