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Mara Naboisho Conservancy Case Study: Nature vs People

The co-existence of a community and wildlife

The Mara Naboisho Conservancy is situated in East Africa’s extremely fertile savannah ecosystem, that has supported both nomadic herding communities and diverse wildlife for centuries. Today, shifts in land-use activities have placed great pressure on the sustainability of this rich ecosystem. The inherent conflict between livestock production and wildlife conservation, coupled with the constant influx of tourism, has made the Maasai Mara a much-contested landscape –  and speaks to the age-old conflict between nature and humanity.

Globally, there have been similar challenges in natural landscapes. One of the solutions has been to include local people in the wildlife conservation model, in hopes of moving towards a more sustainable conservancy model. In Kenya, private conservancies that include local communities in wildlife conservation have redefined the relationship between conservation, tourism and local Maasai pastoralists.

The community receives direct and tangible benefits from wildlife conservation. As a result, the community can graze it’s cattle in the prescribed “controlled grazing” zones, as opposed to engaging in destructive practices such as intensive farming, which leads to overgrazing.

Known loosely as “Community-Based Conservation,” this model takes on different structures and names adapted to different regions and needs. However, each of these underlying variations boil down to the same basic concepts that ensure a relatively smooth co-existence between communities and wildlife. Through the various Mara conservancies, the goal is to re-consolidate the land’s social-ecological systems.

The Mara Naboisho Conservancy is one of the most recent conservancies and is located on the Former Koiyaki Group Ranch. A conservancy is typically a collection of  land (often private holdings, but not always) that are unified under the purpose of conserving natural resources. What makes Naboisho stand out from the others is that, along with implementing community-based conservation, it uses failure and success to inform policy and management structures.

As a result, there is a much greater sense of cohesion in Naboisho, which actually means “together” in KiMaasai. The Naboisho Conservancy includes five member camps and five-hundred participating landowners, each with fifteen-year leases. This conservancy has quickly become known as an incredibly successful example of community-based conservation.

How exactly does the Mara Naboisho Conservancy work?

For Maasai pastoralists, there is a rotational system of cattle grazing. In reality, the high tourism season in the Mara stands in direct conflict with the pastoralists’ needs over the long dry season. In other words, the best places for the cattle to graze during this period are near watering holes and salt licks. Of course, these are also some of the prime locations to view game. Through consultation and negotiation, conflicting land-use is managed under the guidance of principles such as trust, selflessness, and compassion – in other words, “togetherness.”

Mara Naboisho Conservancy, as case study, speaks volumes of a successful co-existence between wildlife and communities. No other agreement provides the same level of income to the volume of landowners that Naboisho Conservancy supports. Despite the challenge of being such a young conservancy (with growing pains), there is a sense of mutual respect for the interests of wildlife and the traditional Maasai livestock practices. This bond is what has driven the conservancy so far, and hopefully will continue to be the leading factor of a sustainable future.

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Want to get involved? View our Savanna Ecology and Community Conservation Faculty-led Module and Maasai Mara Conservancies Service Learning Project.

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Sources consulted:

Jandreau, C. 2014. [De]constructing a partnership: Evaluating a win-win conservation and development story, the case of the Mara conservancies, Kenya. Masters of Natural Resources Management. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba

African Responsible Tourism Award. 2016. Mara Naboisho takes gold at the African Responsible Tourism Awards. Online article: Better Tourism Africa.