November 2011 – A ‘look see’ at the new Asilia Camps in Maasai Mara, Kenya
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The CEO of Asilia invited me to co-host a group of investors from Europe in a visit to their new camps in The Maasai Mara area in Kenya. I had been with this group the previous year on their visit to Sayari Camp in Northern Serengeti. I hadn’t been to the Mara for over 26 years and was quite keen to see the changes but more interested in a better understanding of just how the Kenyan Conservancy idea was working.
Asilia’s latest investment is a bold move into Kenya and wisely they had joined up with respected operators. The long established Rekero Ranch in the Mara and my old camp, Oliver’s Camp Tarangire had shared guests all through the nineties but The Naboisho Conservancy camp is brand new. Both Rekero and Naboisho are now part of Asilia and many of Rekero’s owners and staff had chosen to stay along for the ride. This is great news!
Our party of 20 flew in from Wilson airport Nairobi, to a landscape receiving heavy rain. The flight had very nearly been cancelled that wet morning. Driving to camp I could see wildlife in all directions. These wildebeest here are not the same population that migrates from the Mara River to the Serengeti plains to the south in Tanzania, these animals move between the Liota Hills and the Mara. Gazelle, eland and zebra were moving as well. Giraffe and elephants were plentiful. The lion population as we came to realize is extremely healthy.
Over 4 days meetings and discussions were held with everyone involved.
Our base for 4 days was the all-new Naboisho Camp. Here we received presentations, held discussions, visited the guiding school, enjoyed guided walks, game drives and gained an overview of the entire Conservancy. Basically 500+ local Maasai traditional landowners had voted to get serious about proper title to their land so they registered a % piece each and now ‘rent out’ their Conservancy as a whole to six safari operators. They didn’t want a bed night fee or a share of profits. They wanted a monthly income, something predictable and safe. Each of those 6 operators pays 150,000 USD s per annum to be there in a separate and private section. This ‘kitty’ is added up and a monthly % payout is sent by mobile phone (M-PESA) to every one of the 500+ registered plot owners. Each stakeholder’s monthly payout is linked to the current US dollar rate. It’s then up to the operators to be profitable and eventually most will. It’s a serious co11itment by the investors and the contribution to the overall Maasai Mara wildlife area is i11ense. So roughly 60% of the total gets paid out as ‘rent’ or income every month. As each stakeholder gets around 120 USD s a month that leaves 250,000 USD s per annum in the kitty to fund projects like anti poaching, the guiding school, medical assistance and a whole host of other contributing elements. Many of these stakeholders are now buying land away from the wildlife areas and discussions are underway to fund a professionally run meat processing plant to supply markets in Nairobi and beyond. I wish then every success. I had a fascinating time and learned so very much.
Large Elephant herds were enjoying the mud more than we were. Being really wet some of the driving was challenging but that didn’t stop us, it’s normally quite a dry area we were told! The walking was varied and short green grass and clear air at 5,000+ feet is exhilarating just after dawn. The guides here were entertaining and knowledgeable – we had a blast.
On our last day we drove into The Mara Reserve for a lunch at Rekero before flying out. It was refreshing to visit an older style bush camp that had been receiving guests since 1990 and its location must be one of the best in the Mara. During our many game drives I could see Tanzania, even recognize some of the hills around Bologonja and Woggakuria. They seemed a stones throw away which of course they are. Just how dependent The Maasai Mara area and The Serengeti are on each other is fundamentally underlined when seen from both sides. Only 12 days before this visit I had been in Tanzania on the Mara River watching the big migration moving south. I sincerely hope that the proposed road across the Northern Serengeti never happens!
I send a huge thank you to all in Kenya for making my visit there so very memorable and educational. Asantani sana!
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