An Investors Perspective

The maasai and the mara

The maasai and the mara

Q: What are the key changes that you would make to the management of the Massai Mara?

A: number 1: The first change would be to raise the Mara’s status so that national interest has a say in the management.

In my view the tourism  sector and other stakeholders should be on the management board of a new legally gazetted management entity that has guaranteed tenure and control of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The  local Maasai community and local government must be represented on this board of courses  but they must not be dominant, so that both local and national interests are factored into any future management plan.   This  is an advisable course of action because while 40% of all revenue collected by the  tourism  sector in the country is earned  by the Mara, the Mara reserve itself is rapidly losing it’s  wildlife and environmental viability  from the massive overdevelopment of  tourist facilities inside the protected area; from the many new centers, subdivision and changes of land use to agriculture on it’s peripheries, and from the  pressure of cattle grazing  and poaching.

Number Two: the percentage revenue as they call it, the 19% of revenues that goes to the community… Make it a much higher allocation  – closer to 35% to 40%,  and make sure that it strictly   to finance the wildlife dispersal areas adjoining the Mara Reserve on  a hectare-per-year basis by direct  payment methods to the landowners. This would put the money to the people most affected by the opportunity cost of not bringing cattle into the reserve and land.

Number Three: bring in  international quality professionalized management,  strict budgets, and professionalized revenue collection, and strongly enforce a management plan.

Number Four: land use plans. A cohesive land use plan for the entire Narok County, which would factor in the best areas for wildlife; for domestic livestock; and for agriculture and for settlement. The land use plans need to be updated every couple of years and then strongly implemented by  local and  national government in the form of  grants and loans and assistance to landowners doing the ‘right’ land uses in the right areas, and penalizing the landowners doing the ‘wrong’ land uses in the wrong areas. There are various ways of doing this such as changing the wildlife laws to revert ownership of wildlife to landowners in the wildlife zones thereby placing the cost of wildlife damage and ‘compensation’ burden onto the landowners practicing agriculture in this wildlife zone, and vice versa placing this responsibility and cost onto the land owner practicing wildlife in an agricultural area.. The key is to get the land use plans done.


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 much more directly from the revenue made from the Mara Reserve, and it will be more  clearly  connected to the Mara and wildlife. Additionally  the perception that foreigners are taking advantage of the Maasai’s resources would be addressed.


For your information, the existing system of disbursement of  Mara reserve money is that a a 19% proportion of total takings is allocated on a 50% /50% split between the 13 group ranched adjoining the mara reserve and the other land units of the district. The money is channelled through the CDF for projects on request by the relevant councillors. Obviously with the break up of the group ranches into private land and the advent of the new constitution and county government, the current  payment system has to change.


How  would the payment  system I  propose be better? There would be no more gate keeping and political conditions to receiving the money at the local level because it would be based on a very simple formula :  if you own land and wish to earn revenue on a par with alternative land uses by using wildlife, and if you want a share of the proceeds from the mara reserve, then you will qualify. If you break the deal and graze cattle you are deducted on a per head livestock per day basis using aerial or satellite evidence.

I propose that this Mara Fund supplement the amounts currently paid by existing conservancies (which are usually in the region of 3000/- to 4000/- per year) up to a critical thresh hold of 8000/- per ha per year. Where there are no conservancies, the mara fund should finance the entire amount until new tourism investors enter to start up lodges and contribute 50% of the land use fee. This would free up the the Mara fund to go forward and finance other land units for the continued expansion of wildlife dispersal areas.


Unfortunately, without liberalizing our wildlife laws to allow for wildlife ownership and consumptive utilization, this tourism based expansion of dispersal areas will be limited to the areas adjoining the big name parks and reserves, and the counties including Narok should look at changing these archaic laws to allow wildlife’s currently unobtainable economic viability ( consumptive use) to work for land owners  in non tourism areas.

Back to the Mara fund payment method, tourism and lodge operators would have  a lot more confidence to  invest in  tour facilities far from the  Mara in the new dispersal areas, instead of the current drive to build inside the reserve or on it’s boundaries, which is having a catastrophic effect on the wildlife and the damaging the experience for tourists.  I call it the kitengela effect. In my view, the reserve itself should  have all  permanent lodges removed entirely so that  this core area of the ecosystem can remain sacrosanct into the future, exactly as they have done in India. This will mean  also removing the many third party beneficiaries from inside the reserve, and also removal of the centers back from the edge’s of the Mara Reserve.

In the psychology of most  international tourists,  it is the wilderness  they are looking for – not just wildlife –  and they are willing to pay a higher premium for this if it’s genuine.  In my view this has not been understood by many even in the industry itself, nor by the government. Indeed it seems we have all forgotten that the  Mara was not  created to be a cash cow for a few individuals or tourism investors; it was created to secure the environmental integrity of the ecosystem and was gazetted as such. Sadly our generation of mara managers have  not succeeded in this mandate and we have lost up to 80% of some species of wildlife in the Mara reserve in the last  30  years, a fact  that cannot be disputed so something has to change.

Q: Not everyone will be able to follow this line of reasoning: 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 legal structure; the Ngorongoro Crater  Authority in Tanzania.   The area status has  been raised above the National  park or Game reserve status in law. It is an unique entity of its own, which has  key national stakeholders on the board. In this scenario, management of the Mara would not just be down to local short term politics, the primary reason why there are cattle grazing inside the Reserve. Indeed, part of the problem is that the councillors have had opportunity to earn large amounts of money, which they then use to buy cattle which they  graze inside the reserve while instructing the warden and rangers (whom they employ indirectly through the council) not to interfere.. The councillors also turn a blind eye to illegal grazing by their constituents in return for votes.

I would say that the conservancy model we currently have proves  the land payment model works, though the economic data shows us that we have to double the payments to the $100 to $120 per ha per year level to compete with maize and wheat (according to Dr Mike Norton Griffiths).

Q: Who are the stakeholders that would serve in the committee?

A: You would have the local Maasai community represented;  The county government; K T B; KATO; Kenya hotel keepers association; the KWS; The newly formed Mara  Conservancies forum;  The Ministry of Water; and the Kenya Forest Service


Q: And suppose this is not done? What fate do you then foresee for the Mara?

A: I think without doing these changes I propose – or something similarly radical – in the next 20 years the Mara will end up as a ‘hard edge’ reserve with fences and private residential buildings surrounding the entire boundary, and with only 10% of the current wildlife populations remaining. Additionally,  recent data shows that while the total numbers in the  annual Serengeti  migration of wildebeest are increasing, the numbers entering the Mara are reducing because access to the northern shortgrass plains have been cut off (study by frankfurt zoological foundation) and the migration visiting the Mara will eventually be reduced down to a couple of hundred thousand. I also foresee wildlife surviving in some private conservancies in the area, while absolutely no wildlife will be left on private and communal land where it is not welcomed by some kind of land payment system.. Indeed, you may not know it but there has already been a wildlife catastrophe in the last 15 years with the collapse of the loita  wildebeest migration which has reduced  from 300,000 to 30,000 animals; an example of what is to come.

As this is not just about wildlife, I feel the  biggest cost of no action will be to the local Maasai landowners who will be forced to sell livestock (as communal grazing area is reduced) and to practice agriculture (not their strong point and they have to bring in other agricultural tribes to assist) on physically subdivided ( average size of plot less than 50 acres) and on very marginal land (by the governments own land classification criteria). There is simply no more inefficient way to grow food and drive people into poverty than this scenario in my view.

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: I say to them ‘wake up and look out the window!!’ Do their own  research and don’t blindly follow the data put out by of animal rights NGO’s and the KWS that champion Kenya’s conservation success and preservationist wildlife policy!  The data is clear: There are many scientists  and institutions such as KREMU and ILRI that have documented a clear decline over the last 40 years, and most studies projected forward come to the conclusion of  complete loss within 40 years. In regards the Mara, Dr Ogutu published a paper that shows clearly the trends of decline of many species of herbivore, particularly topi, giraffe, warthog and kongoni, whose numbers are down by between 60-80%, all in the last 30 years or so.

Lions and cheetah populations are crashing country wide according to Dr Lawrence Frank, and in the Mara statistics show they are down from 360 10 years ago  to 180  or so today.

Some will point to the elephant population increasing due to the ivory ban and effective policing ban, but this argument in support of prohibition is on shaky ground with the current poaching onslaught and the fact that many more elephant are killed by KWS  themselves on ‘EHC’ or ‘elephant human conflict’  than is poached as it is.  Without the land issues and wildlife policies being reviewed to make elephant more economically important for landowners, we are only bringing up the numbers now for the army to remove the animals later as the  political cost threshold is reached – exactly what happened in Rwanda and other parts of Africa.

The root cause of all our wildlife problems are  the crazy wildlife policies that don’t allow landowners to either own the wildlife on their land, nor to use it consumptively which compels them to remove it entirely by any means possible to allow the alternative land uses to be viable.  Unless this wildlife policy is changed there will  continue to be a  catastrophic crash of wildlife numbers country wide, not just in the Mara. If the policy were to be changed, there would be an entire industry  potentially worth $600 million a year that could help alleviate poverty on the arid land of Kenya and justify wildlife’s continued existence. The southern countries show this is the correct path as their wildlife populations expand while ours detracts.

I must say that in my opinion the wildlife conservancy movement – while a brave attempt to correct historical injustices in revenue distribution – can only ever  be a stop gap to buy us  some time while our new generation of leaders can get our wildlife policy in order; to finally include landowners in  the formulation of the policy and to make them work for the people whom actually live with wildlife and not for the interests of the fanatical ‘preservationist’ group of NGO’s, KWS, and famous Kenya based conservation personalities,  as it currently is.

Q: You paint a very grim picture.

A: I am not pessimistic, just realistic, and  believe that without the shocking truth being told, no inertia can be created to change the situation, and we will lament why we couldn’t change things when we could.





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