On the Brink
The people of Kenya's Maasai Mara are struggling to preserve their culture and environmental heritage.
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2012 14:08

Filmmakers: Tom Evans and Kevin Rushby

The annual migration of the wildlife through the Serengeti is one of the great spectacles of the natural world. And in Kenya, the migration runs across the Maasai communal lands.


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Recent reforms have made it possible for individual Maasai landowners to sell their land. And the temptation to do deals with commercial farms and hotel chains is huge.

But this commercial development is threatening both Maasai traditions and the great migration itself.

However, at the Naboisho Conservancy project, a groundbreaking project that aims to conserve communal Maasai land, big changes are underway.

The Conservancy is a wildlife reserve of 20,000 hectares, owned by about 500 Maasai families. It is run by a team of Maasai whose challenge is to balance the needs of local people, the wildlife and the tourists.

And now at a critical point, it is trying to secure a corridor of land to connect with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. This additional corridor will save the great migration route.

The Conservancy gives landowners around a $170 a month for a 60 hectare plot. But by dealing with a commercial business, a landowner could get up to 10 times that amount - which is a tempting offer for a struggling farmer.

But land division is only one of many challenges to the Conservancy ideas. Balancing human populations with the wildlife that brings in the tourists is the Conservancy's ongoing challenge.

"We have already given out land and we are losing cattle. We are losing money, it's really bad. If lions are killing cattle, why would we be happy? We are losing our livelihood. If Maasai communities don't benefit from this land, you will not see these animals again. We will use arrows and spears to eliminate them until they are no longer here."

- A Maasai landowner

Every tourist who visits the Conservancy, helps pay the Maasai landowners and provide jobs for the local community.

Unlike the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Naboisho is onwed and run by local Maasai - this money is causing revolution within Maasai society and it is having unexpected consequences.

And already, the scheme is pushing deep social change, in particular the growing involvement of Maasai girls and women in business and public life.

These women - traditionally uneducated - have found a new place within tourism.

The demand for female Maasai guides is leading to a wave of young Maasai women signing up to Naboisho's very own guiding school.

Naboisho is designed to allow wildlife to flourish but on the edge of the Conservancy, where the Maasai are allowed to graze their cattle, increased numbers of animals like lions and leopards, have brought humans and predators into conflict.

However, in the face of the dangers posed by globalisation, with 500 families already members of the project, and more joining every week, the Conservancy might just be the best way to ensure Maasai culture and Kenya's environmental heritage survives into the 21st century.

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