On the 28th of March 2010 when several hundreds of local Maasai landowners were formerly signing a 15-year lease to create the Mara Naboisho Conservancy, 41 year old Kimemia Ole Taek was not one of them.
The development of Naboisho Conservancy is not something that just took place over night. Instead it was the result of extensive discussions between community leaders, conservationists and tourism investors. Yet, Ole Taek whose extended family owned several hundred acres of land in Naboisho was hesitant:
“My family members looked up to me for advice on where we would resettle and graze our cattle. I was worried about our land so I chose to resist. I didn’t understand the idea of leasing land and instead I believed it was a ploy to simply take over my family’s land.”
A few years later, Ole Taek remained opposed to the conservancy, at times even clashing with conservancy management over cattle grazing and fencing of land. His friends couldn’t understand his position. Ole Taek was a seasoned tour guide in the Mara, and thus should be a champion of wildlife conservation, not fighting against it.
Eventually, it was for the betterment of his community that turned Ole Taek around. “I never went to school but because of wildlife in this area I learnt to speak English through interacting with tourists. Today my children are going to school with others who would not be in school if there was no income from the conservancy. The lease payments are transparent, timely and used to pay for our children to have an education – the benefits of leasing land to conservancies are clear,” he explains.
According to a study by Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda (STTA) in May 2016, conservancy rent is the main source and most regular income for the people of Mara Naboisho. Further, education, healthcare and livestock treatment are the key areas of expenditure from this income.
Ole Taek now foresees a great future. But he is quick to caution that for conservancies to thrive “Maasai children and youth must be sensitized to appreciate their heritage and the conservancies must continue to allow the Maasai to graze their cattle within them.”
Like Ole Taek, many local Maasai land owners need reassurance about their land, heritage and culture being honoured, to participate and support wildlife conservation. The conservancy model by Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) combines conservation of nature and cultural heritage, eco-tourism, and the enhancement of livelihoods for the local communities.
Land is an emotive issue in Kenya and so land transactions tend to be complex. Supporting conservancies to register land leases is a key component of the MMWCA program supported by USAID-Kenya and East Africa. The goal is to protect land for wildlife while also promoting joint partnerships with the communities that own the land. The Mara Conservancies protect over 330,000 acres belonging to more than 11,000 landowners in the Maasai Mara ecosystem.