Tourism is now Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earning sector and has helped to position the country as the largest economy in East and Central Africa.
For the indigenous tribes, tourism has brought the opportunity for employment which has provided a lifeline following the introduction of intensive farming as the tribes were stripped of their lands making it increasingly difficult to follow a traditional nomadic lifestyle as livestock ranching expanded. Investment in infrastructure has been heavy to accommodate tourists and this has also increased industrial and agricultural growth.
Tourism raises awareness of the declining population numbers of wildlife and funds conservation activity in the region. This has resulted in increased media coverage building the awareness on a global scale.
The vast influx of tourists and tour operators is not without its downsides though and it is the negative impacts of tourism which are often dismissed but pose a real threat.
In the 1960’s there was only 1 lodge and 100 beds in the Mara ecosystem – fast forward to 2011 and there are now over 100 camps and lodges within the Masai Mara Reserve and along its boundaries which equates to over 4,000 beds. This figure is still increasing as a safari holiday becomes more and more popular. The potential to have 4,000 tourists in the region who are all looking to spot the best wildlife has resulted in too many vehicles crowding the animals as well as spoiling the visitor experience.
The reality is no longer the ‘Out of Africa’ experience people expect, rather more a glorified safari park with hoards of tourists and minibuses.
The vehicles erode the land, disrupt and scare the animals and pollute the air. The luxury lodges leave a permanent blot on the landscape and the swimming pools and hot tubs steal water from an area prone to drought. Restaurants have altered birds feeding habits and monkeys now scavenge from bins.
The luxury safari camps are owned and run by foreign investors who make a healthy profit from the camps and are under no obligation to plough the money back into local development. Locals are employed at minimum wage offering them little opportunity to afford education or healthcare.
The current situation is far from the rosy picture often painted of the tourist industry in Kenya however it doesn’t have to remain this way.
Porini Ecotourism is a Kenyan company founded by Kenyan national Jake Grieves-Cook. All of Porini’s safari camps operate under the ‘Conservancy Concept’. This is a new model of safari- tourism which benefits the locals, the wildlife and the tourists.
A quick outline is:
- A conservancy is an area of at least 7,000 acres of community owned land made of individual parcels leased from the owners and set aside exclusively for wildlife
- Payment to locals is by acre, not per tourist, and is made monthly regardless of tourist numbers and is paid directly to every individual landowner and not via a central committee
- The lease is paid by the safari operators who operate the tourism activities in the conservancy
- There is a maximum density of 1 tent per 700 acres and normally a maximum of 12 tents per camp
- The area is vacated by the owners who remove all homesteads and livestock bomas
- Grazing of domestic livestock and cattle incursions are controlled.
- The conservancy is managed by a warden and rangers whose costs are covered by the safari company
The tangible benefits of a conservancy are numerous and offer a real and viable alternative to the current safari-tourism model. The benefits of the conservancy concept are as follows:
- The Masai see the benefits of tourism and it provides a profitable alternative to animal husbandry.
- No more over grazing in the conservancy so grass and vegetation recovers
- Virtually no poaching or wildlife killing within the community owned conservancies
- Warden and rangers to protect the wildlife in the conservancy
- Continued ownership of the land by the community as it is leased
- Camp staff, guides and rangers are all drawn from the families of the Masai landowners
- Small intimate eco-camps where the focus is on guiding and the safari experience
- Wildlife viewing without the crowds or minivans
- Guiding by KPSGA qualified Masai guides
This concept has been proven to work and in the Selenkay Conservancy elephants have returned after an absence of over 20 years.
If you want to make an informed decision and use your holiday to help support both the wildlife and local community of Kenya then consider one of the four Porini Camps. If you’re unsure a quick look on TripAdvisor should persuade you as each camp is rated 5 star and Porini Mara Camp won TripAdvisor Travellers Choice 2012. One customer wrote:
‘’The Porini Camps Concept of engaging the Maasai in gainfully using their land as a conservancy has allowed wildlife to return in large numbers. Moreover, it has allowed the Maasai to step into the 21st century whilst staying in touch with their roots and yet earning a modern wage.
From the point of view of the tourist, you get an authentic experience of the African bush and its peoples, whilst staying in camps that have most of the creature comforts that urban mankind has got used to. The drives are individual and off the beaten track, the guides are English speaking Maasai who naturally have an intimate knowledge of their land.
In brief, the Porini people are the flip side of the parasitic tour operator.’’
As tourists we need to be aware of the impact of our choices, and through a unique Kenya safari experience you can help to support a model which will protect this environment for future generations.