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Remembering Tristan Voorspuy, one of the last stylishly mad people in Kenya

We pray that his appalling killing will encourage Kenya’s government to wake up and tackle the spreading chaos

11 March 2017

9:00 AM

11 March 2017

9:00 AM

Laikipia

On Tristan Voorspuy’s hell-for-leather riding safaris across Kenya’s savannah, he cracked a bullwhip at predators that tried to eat his guests. One time a lion chased American actress Glenn Close on her horse and Tristan said, ‘We nearly lost her.’ They all joked about it that night around the campfire. Tristan was among the last of the stylishly mad people in Kenya. He once rode his horse into the bar at the Muthaiga Club during a stag party. From the saddle, he toasted the groom, his steed defecated on the parquet and off he trotted between astonished drinkers into Africa’s night. Tristan was a gentleman and well read. He walked with the stiff, bow-legged gait of a man who has fallen off a polo pony too many times, he had a wild temper and he threw unbelievable parties with his wife Cindy at Deloraine, their tumbledown pile in the Rift Valley. He was a conservationist who loved birds and animals. His best years were devoted to Sosian, a ranch on Kenya’s Laikipia plateau — and the farm next to us — which he bought when it was a derelict dustbowl. He turned it into a very successful tourism and ranching enterprise, full of game, employing hundreds, paying lashings of tax.


A few days ago, when Tristan Voorspuy rode out on his grey gelding Loita on the ranch, his farm manager said, ‘Don’t go.’ Across Laikipia hordes of armed Samburu and Pokot invaders are running amok, killing people, vandalising, looting and massacring elephant and other game. Sosian’s tourist lodge closed a month ago after raiders torched another safari camp on a neighbouring conservancy. More than 100,000 cattle and well over 1,000 armed youths have invaded our immediate area — an extraordinary sight when you fly over this multitude.

Before the weekend they had burned down three ranch houses on Sosian. Anybody venturing into the area was ambushed. Tristan declared that this was his farm and he wanted to see what was happening for himself. He rode off, unarmed, heading to one of the ruined houses. Hours passed. His distraught son Archie and staff down the hill could not get close in soft-skinned vehicles. A circling helicopter spotted Loita standing saddleless and alone. Later a scout was able to reach the site unscathed. Loita had been shot twice and had a broken leg. Nearby was Tristan, shot three times execution-style. Tristan’s people could not retrieve the body under the hails of gunfire. Overnight Loita vanished, perhaps eaten by hyenas, and it was not until noon the next day that a senior policeman reached the place in an armoured vehicle to retrieve poor Tristan. His daughter Imogen said, ‘When Tristan set out on his horse, he was doing it for what he loved and believed in most… his honourable dedication to the welfare of wildlife and the safety of us in Kenya…’.

On the bush telegraph we have heard that when Tristan arrived at the burned house site he encountered a Pokot and two Samburus. One of them was carrying an AK-47. Tristan said calmly to them, ‘I come unarmed and I am not here to cause you any problems.’ The Samburu grapevine claims that the Pokot, an illiterate youth named Kachartat, shot the horse and then killed Tristan. The Pokot grapevine, meanwhile, blames one of the Samburus for pulling the trigger. It appears that Tristan held his head high at the instant of his death and was not fleeing, because they shot him in the face.

I knew Tristan on and off for 27 years and I never imagined that he would become a symbol of our despair or hope in this way. He was not the only person to suffer violence in Laikipia: in recent months a frightening number of Kenyans have been murdered and wounded across the plateau. This week Samburu raiders shot a woman who was seven months pregnant in her legs and also shot her children aged four and 12. They poured bullets into these poor people’s mud hut as they slept. The attackers were not there to steal — it was pure malice. The mother and children are down-page news, but Tristan’s killing has made headlines around the world. We pray that this will encourage Kenya’s government to finally wake up and tackle the spreading chaos a few months ahead of national elections. If it does not, then we will have all lost tragically. In Laikipia we have to hope that Tristan’s appalling death and the sad tale of his white horse Loita will signal our lowest point.

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