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Beads for Wildlife

Each handmade Beads for Wildlife piece you purchase provides a woman in Northern Kenya with the choice of a reliable income that doesn't impact local wildlife.

Beads for Wildlife helps:

  • Provide crucial support for 900 families. One woman beadwork artisan can earn enough income to support her entire family
  • Reduce the community's reliance on large numbers of livestock during times of extreme drought, reducing competion with local wildlife for natural resources
  • Improve food security and access to health care
  • Reduce violent conflicts between tribes as men feel less pressure to steal and fight over livestock
Three boys

Melbourne Zoo's lion brothers fly the coop

On Wednesday, Melbourne Zoo transferred three of its most handsome animals - lion siblings Kashka, Kubwa and Kito - to their new home at Monarto Open Range Zoo in South Australia.

29 November 2018
Nairibi's sixth birthday

Birthday treat for lioness Nairibi

Lioness Nairibi celebrated her sixth birthday today at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

Nairibi was born at Givskud Zoo in Denmark and arrived at Werribee Open Range Zoo in 2014 with half-sister Nilo to form part of the Zoo’s successful international breeding program.

15 February 2018

Program Description

What to bring

Student ratio

Plan your visit

Zebras herd


At Werribee Open Range Zoo you can see zebras, sociable and playful animals, at close quarters and in an open range setting.

Quasi with mum

Hamadryas Baboon

Hamadryas Baboons are active and intelligent primates that have captivated Melbourne Zoo visitors since 1948. Their custom-built enclosure recreates the environment of the north-east African Savannah, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the complex social world of a baboon troop.

Giraffe Herd


The expanding human population is encroaching on areas where giraffe formerly roamed freely. Visit the giraffes at Werribee Open Range Zoo to learn about these wondrous creatures as well as the Zoo’s conservation programs. 


Why has Zoos Victoria developed this campaign?


  • As a zoo-based conservation organisation we are committed to wildlife conservation.
  • Drought in Northern Kenya is threatening the survival of people and wildlife.
  • Endangered Grevy’s Zebra numbers are dropping due to competition with livestock for water and grazing.
  • The bead trade offers additional income to people and means they need to rely less on large numbers of livestock.
  • With more than 1.7 million visitors through Zoos Victoria’s gates each year, we have a unique opportunity to engage the community in action with real conservation outcomes


What does the campaign hope to achieve?


Beads for Wildlife aims to:

  • Provide an additional source of income to families in Northern Kenya, alleviating the threats posed by drought to reduce their impact on local wildlife.
  • Raise public awareness of the Zoos Victoria and Melako Wildlife Conservancy partnership.
  • Provide the local community with the opportunity to join in conservation efforts through a tangible call to action.


How does Beads for Wildlife help people and wildlife?


The bead trade provides women with and alternative income, allowing them to support their families whilst utilising a skill that is aligned with their cultural values. This money provides reprieve during times of drought. Families no longer need to struggle to keep high numbers of goats alive within this harsh climate to earn a living; the burden of livestock on the ecosystem is lessened which in turn lessens the burden on natural resources such as water, ultimately leaving more water for Critically Endangered species such as the Grevy’s Zebra.


Why is the Grevy’s Zebra the ambassador animal for this campaign?


  • Melako is an important place for the Grevy's Zebra because it hosts the most significant population of this species in the northern area which is roughly 10 per cent of the population.
  • Other species also found in the area include African wild dogs, lions, elephants, beisa oryx, cheetahs, buffalos and giraffe.


How does local cattle grazing impact on wildlife in Kenya?


The main issue facing the Grevy’s Zebra in Melako is lack of water. During the dry season the zebra’s share the same watering points as domestic livestock. The introduction of cattle to the grazing plains of local wildlife has brought increased competition for water which is already dangerously scarce for the Grevy’s Zebra.


How does Beads for Wildlife help Baboons?


Melbourne Zoo chose the baboon as the ambassador species for the Beads for Wildlife Campaign as Northern Kenya is also home to the Yellow Baboon. Increase in competition for resources is also placing pressure on these wild baboons. The extra demand for beadwork means that women don’t need to rely as heavily on using palm fronds for weaving materials. Palms provide habitat for baboons, they are a super social highway and the backdrop for the life of the baboon troupe.


What is the significance of the beadwork to local communities?


Traditionally done by the women of the tribe, beadwork identifies a person’s position in society and demonstrates a woman’s creative ability.

Like many tribes across Kenya, the colour of beads holds a special meaning for the Rendille Tribe.

Traditionally white and red beads are the most common because in times of drought (such as right now), the Rendille drink the blood and milk of their camels.

The wealth, marital status, even the age of a woman or the children she may have borne are all reflected in the jewellery she wears.


Who are the Northern Rangelands Trust?


The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) is a community led initiative, registered in 2004, whose members represent politically and socially marginalised pastoralist communities of Northern Kenya.

The Trust helps communities save wildlife in their regions while also building environmentally, socially and economically sustainable livelihoods.

The overall aim of NRT’s livestock program in Melako Community Conservancy is to cut livestock numbers by 20% thereby reducing community reliance on livestock and to examine alternative income streams.

Melako was established in 2005 and covers 33,000 hectares of Northern Kenya. It has a population of approximately 6000 people from the Rendille, Samburu and Boran tribal groups


What happens to the money from the sold beadwork?


Werribee Open Range Zoo buys the products direct from NRT. The Trust then uses this money to pay the women for their beadwork, future purchases of bead products and it covers packaging and delivery costs.

Women make a 70% profit on the raw bead materials they buy from NRT after selling their finished pieces.

Women use this alternative income to buy vegetables, medicine, and to feed, clothe and send their children to school.


Is the program ‘donating’ money to wildlife conservation?


Beads for Wildlife is a community trade campaign. It does not give ‘aid’ in the form of cash handouts, but rather aims to foster a sustainable trade relationship.

As a partner, we provide a market for the beadwork enterprise in Australia so women’s enterprises, such as the one that supplies Beads for Wildlife, can flourish.


Where do the beads come from?


Czechoslovakian glass beads were originally brought to Eastern Africa by Arab traders who used them in exchange for ivory and other treasures.

Traders introduced many different coloured, shaped and sized beads which helped to produce the vibrant and contrasting coloured beadwork that typifies East Africa.

Today the enterprise continues to use Czechoslovakian glass and plastic beads.

Contact Zoos Victoria E:  P: (03) 9340 2744

Last Christmas 15,000 Australians gave a Beads for Wildlife Christmas gift, literally helping hundreds of people and wildlife survive Kenya’s worst drought in six decades!

The different colours of the beadwork represent various elements in the lives of the Rendille people:

Black: The people and life’s journey

Blue: The sky which provides water to the land

Green: The land that grows food for the cattle

White: The milk that nourishes the community

Red: The blood of the cow

Yellow: The animal skins

Orange: Hospitality that is offered to guests