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By MMWCA Comms Team

Aitong’, Maasai Mara has played host to diverse delegations from near and far that seek to learn about the Mara Conservancies’ model. The approach is rooted in the spirit of the Mara that recognises the role and place of the community in biodiversity conservation. As MMWCA and its membership commemorate the Association’s 10th anniversary, we take you through remarkable milestones that have defined and refined the Mara Conservancies’ model.

The Awakening

Paramount Chief Lerionka Ole Ntutu challenged the revenue collection on community land by the Narok County Council at the exclusion of the community in Court in the early 1990s. The outcome of the matter gave birth to the famous 19% revenue for the community. Although the implementation remains contentious, the idea that the community can accrue benefits from conservation made people realise that conservation was not a preserve of government.

Land Use Planning

Koyiaki-Lemek Wildlife Trust and Olchorro Wildlife Conservation and Management Association developed a land use zoning plan that was never approved as politics got in the way (the group ranches could not agree) but was implemented to the letter. According to Dickson Kaelo, who served as the Koyiaki-Lemek manager, the development process was very consultative. Because the process had the community’s buy-in, the landowners implemented the plan after the subdivision without thinking about it. This land use planning came from the work of the African Conservation Centre through Helen Gichohi in 1998, recommending land use planning in group ranches.

Conservation Benefits

The Associations unlocked income that went to communities for the first time at the household level—each landowner received Sh2,500 semi-annually. Kaelo further says Koyiaki-Lemek sponsored 420 students (most conservation leaders today). Additionally, according to Mara North Landowners’ Committee Chair Francis Ole Nkoitoi, the Koyiaki-Lemek Trust had an arrangement with Tenwek Hospital that saw the hospital provide medical services for its members. Ole Nkoitoi says they paid an average of Sh30m per year. Other benefits included infrastructural facilities in the landscape, including dispensaries and boreholes. These benefits entrenched the belief that one could manage their land in a manner in which they could reap something from it.

Dickson Kaelo

CEO, Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association.
When the conservancies associations collapsed and group ranches subdivided into land units, tourism operators and conservation NGOs decried that the Mara was gone. Many people think it was bad to have associations at that time, but I think it was a necessary precursor; if we didn’t have Koyiaki-Lemek Trust, Olchoro Wildlife Association, and Siana Wildlife Trust, we wouldn’t have had conservancies today.

Subdivision of Land in Lemek and Collapse of Associations

The subdivision of land spelt doom as the community could not visualise success outside of the collective membership. Predictably, Koyiaki-Lemek Wildlife Trust, Olchorro Wildlife Conservation and Management Association and Siana Wildlife Trust did not survive beyond the subdivision of land. Mismanagement, weak governance and simmering conflict made the organisations degenerate into a dramatic anti-climax. And because Koyiaki-Lemek was already a towering leader, the collapse was dramatic. The Trust had three Landcruisers, an office and rangers trained by the Kenya Wildlife Service. So good was Koyiaki Lemek that it received delegations on learning visits from outside Kenya, including South Africa.

Re-emergence of Conservancies

The spectacular failure provided an opportunity to reflect and learn. But the Mara community was not done yet; they went to the drawing board. As Kaelo notes, a belief was already planted, and people knew they could benefit from conservation. All they needed to do was figure out the “how”. “Again, there was already a mindset that you could zone the land and leave some places open because of that process of creating a land use plan,” he adds.

The establishment of Olare Orok in 2007 marked a new beginning. The founders of the conservancy were keen not just to set up a conservation body but also to address the challenges faced by the collapsed entities. Motorogi was established a year after with the support of Sir Richard Branson.

Basecamp Explorer Foundation Kenya facilitated an Ecological Brainstorming in 2011, focusing on the learnings from previous experiences. The best practices were implemented in Mara Naboisho. As such, Naboisho was the best version of what a conservancy needed to be at its establishment. The same learnings were implemented in other conservancies, including the successor of Koyiaki—Mara North Conservancy.

Establishment of MMWCA

The Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association was established in November 2013, with a membership of eight existing conservancies at the time. The Association institutionalised and consolidated individual efforts of people who worked tirelessly in the conservation space within and outside the Mara to ensure biodiversity is conserved and people are thriving.

The Association continues to help conservancies to strengthen their governance and innovate to meet emerging challenges and bring about the desired transformational change.

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