The history of Borana is also the story of three generations of a family that have been at the forefront of the evolving attitude towards the use of land in the Kenyan highlands.
At the end of the First World War, the British Government was handing out land in the empty areas of the Kenyan highlands to soldier settlers to encourage them to develop it for agriculture. Will Powys, the maternal grandfather Borana’s current manager, Michael Dyer, drew several thousand acres around Kisima spring in the foothills of Mount Kenya. This was fortunate as the spring ensured his land had water and enabled him to survive the years ahead when many other settlers did not.
Will went to work for an established farmer, taking his pay in trees, stock and machinery. In 1927, he was able to start his business in Kisima, 8000 feet above sea level.
He established a farm but – after a particularly cruel storm when 200 sheep were lost in one night – he realised that he needed land at a lower altitude. He found it by the Ngare Ndare River. Ngare Ndare means "River of Sheep" in the Masai language yet – despite this positive portent – challenges remained, particularly the virulent blue-tongue virus which killed many sheep before a vaccine became available. As the years went by, Will was able to buy further land, including where Borana Lodge sits today. In this era, both the settlers and the Laikipia Masai – who traditionally herd goats and cattle – had little time for wild animals and hunting was part of the lifestyle.
Will married Elizabeth and together they had three children: Rose, who lives on the land at Ngare Ndare, Charles, who was killed in a gun accident in 1964 and Gilfrid, who is the head of the Kisima enterprise and lives on a ranch in Rumuruti. Elizabeth also had one daughter from an earlier marriage: Delia Douglas, who married David Craig. They and their family, particularly their son, Ian, are the founders of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
Rose married Tony Dyer and they have four sons: Michael, Francis (Fuzz), Martin and Charles. Martin and Charles run the crops and livestock at Kisima.
In 1984, Michael Dyer took over the land at Borana; it didn’t rain for 18 months and 700 cattle died. In desperation, he and his cousin Ian Craig resorted to running game shoots until Ian had an epiphany that the future was in preservation and conservation.
Ian and Michael were at the forefront of a radical rethinking of attitudes towards land use, wildlife and the local community. In 1990, Michael and his wife Nicky created Borana Lodge, the first eco-lodge in the area. Today, conservation and working with the local community drives much of the activity at Borana.
Meanwhile, Michael’s brother Fuzz and his wife Bimbi are partners in the coastal eco-lodge Manda Bay.