An Investor’s Perspective
Q: What are the key changes that you would make to the management of the Massai Mara?
A: The first change would be to raise its status so that national interest has a say in the management.
For example, all tourism stakeholders should be on board so that the management of the Mara is not just at the local community level only. It’s too important for that.
Number Two: the percentage revenue as they call it, the 19% of revenues that goes to the community. Make it higher – closer to 35%. And to make sure that it is allocated towards financing on a hectare-per-year basis the dispersal area. Direct payment to the landowners; the Massai land owners around the Mara.
Number Three would be professionalized management and professionalized revenue collection, which mostly is increasingly getting better.
Number Four would be a land use plan. A cohesive land use plan for the entire Narok County, which would incorporate where are the best areas for wildlife; for domestic livestock; and for agriculture. The local government and the national government needs to assist and finance people doing the right land usage and the right areas; basically not assisting people to do the wrong land uses in the wrong areas so there are various ways of doing that.
Q: What would the Massai gain from this? Any policy that hopes to succeed would have to put people first.
A: The Maasai would gain from the revenue made from the Mara. Tourism would become a direct local benefit, very visible because it would be sent from the County Council of Narok to the local people, so that they would get direct money from the tourism in the Mara. And the perception that foreigners are taking advantage of the Maasai’s resources would be less. There would be less of that feeling of being sidelined, which right now they really are. Currently the money that gets to the Maasai comes from the 19%. The money goes to the CDF fund from which it then comes through the county councilor or through the MP to build a school – there is no connection between wildlife and the school. That’s the problem. It’s got to be direct Mpesa from county councilor or from the appointed revenue collector to the actual individual with the land. How they would benefit? They would sustain far more revenue from their land over time if wildlife’s true potential is realized. Right now wildlife is decreasing all around because the perception is that other land uses are more viable and this is not the case if the policy was changed towards wildlife. But all we can talk about right now is land leasing to tourism operations. There would be a lot more relief in the tourism industry and investors would invest in a lodge ten kilometers from the boundary of the Mara and still see wildlife in five years’ time. So there is a lot more positive hope for the tourism industry and this is why it would stop also the pressure of lodges and operators trying to be on the center of the reserve. The reserve itself should have lodges mostly taken out of it should the core area and increase the value; increase what you are charging. Double it. But if you are seeing more and more hotel lodges and roads in there, then no. Basically it’s the wilderness people are looking for. They are willing to pay anything for that. Because the Mara was not created to make profit for individuals. It is for securing the ecosystem that is what the Mara national reserve is originally created for. It’s securing the ecosystem – right now we are not doing a good job. We have been losing up to 80% of our wildlife for the last 10 years. Right now we are not succeeding.
Q: Could you give me a model for what the Mara could be that has actually been successfully implemented somewhere else, so that we move away from the theory to practice? What has been done elsewhere which shows a way for what we should be doing in the Mara?
A: I would say in terms of structure; like parastatal-like structure; I would say the Ngorongoro Authority in Tanzania is interesting because it’s been raised above the park level and above the game reserve level. It is a parastatal of its own, which has all the key stakeholders on board. It’s not just down to local Maasai politics, which is why there are cattle in the Mara. That doesn’t happen in the Ngorongoro Crater because there is a bigger power, and it cannot be degazetted.
Q: Who are the stakeholders that would serve in the committee?
A: You would have the Maasai community, that is those who live around, and are representative of the local community. The county council and the governor should be there; there would be of course tourism stakeholders, both the operators and the hotel investor. There are two different types of stakeholders, there are the guys who sell Kenya – the Kenya Tourism Board, for example. Then there are the people who actually feed the clients so there is two different sides. Then you look at the Water ministry, for example the Mara River is critical and decisions made upstream affect very much downstream and so the water people too need to be included. Ultimately, we are trying to bring wildlife as an option for the Maasai with 100 acres out there: how is wildlife an option if he only he has 100 acres? It’s impossible, unless if he is part of a collective. And then the work that has to go into how the money is distributed; and the only way, and the model that seems to be working, is Olare Orok and the Mara North conservancies. This is for outside the boundaries of the park itself. If you could spread that model all the way down per hectare per year. The main reason that the Mara reserve is important is that the revenue from it can be redirected to paying for dispersal area for the Maasai landowners who are outside the park, so you can secure your core as well.
Q: And suppose this is not done? What fate do you then foresee for the Mara?
A: I think without doing this, we would have no wildlife in Mara, or maybe just 10% of what we have now will be left. We will have less than 40 lions in the Mara. We will have about 150,000 wildebeest in here in 20 years’ time. I am telling you it’s going and if anyone thinks different it’s okay: Let’s meet in 20 years’ time and look at it.
Q: How do you answer those who say that this is a wild exaggeration? That there may be a drop in population – but not that great a drop?
A: Environmentalists are always accused of exaggerating for effect. They say if we lose 10% no one will notice; but if we lose 50% people notice. The trend is clear: This environmental scientist, Dr. Ogutu, got into a lot of trouble over this. He wrote a paper that shows clearly that the trend in herbivores, particularly topi, giraffe, warthog, kongoni, are down by between 60-80% in the last 10 years or so, I can’t remember the exact time frame. Lions are certainly down from 360 just in the reserve itself, down to 180, but, right now, just in one area alone, I know of about at least two lions recently killed. It is really serious right now. And outside the reserve there is no chance for any cat out there. They are poisoning them so fast you don’t hear lions now; you don’t see lions. And this is because the local Maasai feel lions are a threat to their cattle. And now with the increasing numbers of people in a family, and with much the same number of cattle, the local Maasai are getting poor. The Maasai no longer have the capacity to lose cattle to a lion. It’s not there anymore. In the old days they might accept to lose a cow here and there; but now they can’t afford to lose any. So poison is put into every dead animal that they come across; every cow that is killed; so they make sure that the poison is in there for the lion come and get it.
Q: You paint a very grim picture.
A: I don’t want to be negative, but I would say in 40 years or even sooner than that, there will be no wildlife outside the Mara. You can effectively put a fence around the Mara reserve within 10 years because there will be no dispersal area if we don’t make these changes effectively. Within that time, inside the reserve you will be down to 10% of what we have right now, which is more or less what you already have in Nairobi National Park. It is effectively cut off. It’s probably got, throughout the year, 20% of what it used to have.