ECOTOURISM OPERATORS IN KENYA RISING ABOVE THE COVID-19 CHALLENGE

This is a series of case studies that demonstrate how Kenyan responsible tourism operators are coping with the effects COVID-19 

Tourism operators are grappling with the effects of COVID-19 on travel, jobs, protection of wildlife and safeguarding livelihoods that depend on the industry for survival. While there is no denying the global pandemic is here with us, we will highlight the Ecotourism Kenya members who have risen above it and are creating ripples of positivity and sustainability.  This will be in a series of bi-monthly case studies featuring our membership with a call for support.

Name of Project: “Adopt-an-Acre” project

Founder: Jake Grieves-Cook and Dr. Mohanjeet Brar – Gamewatchers & Porini Camps

Location of Project: Masai Mara and Amboseli regions, Kenya

Gamewatchers Safaris, one of the leading tour companies in Kenya has been at the forefront in promoting the protection of wildlife habitat and supporting livelihoods of communities in the destinations in which it conducts business, such as Maasai Mara, Laikipia and Amboseli. These two crucial aspects of sustainability have been in the “DNA” of the company since its inception over 30 years ago. Through partnership with the community, Gamewatchers have adopted the conservancy concept by leasing land adjacent to protected areas such as Maasai Mara National Reserve and in the Amboseli eco-system. The benefits to the community are many such as income (about KES 150 million in 2019) from the leases and bed night fees, employment of 240 staff at the Gold rated Porini Camps as well as the conservancies.

In addition the company has established a bursary fund of over Kshs. 1 million each to Selenkay Conservancy, Amboseli and also to Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Maasai Mara in the last 12 months.

However, the global COVID-19 pandemic has brought tourism to a standstill. As a result, local communities which had for many years derived these benefits are now unable to do so, since no revenue is being generated. Further, wildlife conservation is now under threat, as communities might decide to take back their land and change the use for example to agriculture.

Guests on a game drive

While the world adjusts to the “new normal” characterized by cessations of movements and lockdowns, and not knowing when income from tourism will resume, these unprecedented events have led to more questions than answers. For example, how do these communities continue to earn income from the leased lands? How do the employees at the camps and conservancies earn an income when no revenue is being generated?

Gamewatchers Safaris in a bid to keeping with its commitment to protecting wildlife habitat and supporting community livelihoods has come up with an innovative approach called the “Adopt-an-Acre” plan.

How it works

It’s important to note that in Maasai Mara, Gamewatchers in partnership with like-minded companies is a founder member of Ol Kinyei, Naboisho and Olare Motorogi Conservancies which protect over 100,000 acres of land adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Ol Kinyei conservancy is 18,700 acres and has been exclusively leased to Gamewatchers Safaris. Ol Kinyei is the only destination in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem to be recognized as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List destination. The IUCN Green List Standard addresses four themes: good governance, sound design and planning, effective management, and positive conservation outcomes.

A herd of elephants drinking water in one of the watering holes within Selenkay conservancy

On the other hand, in the Amboseli eco-system, over 20 years ago the company established Selenkay Conservancy a 15,000 acre private wilderness in the heart of Maasai country adjacent to the Amboseli National Park. Selenkay is arguably the first conservancy to be set up on this concept in the country and its successes have led to this model being replicated across the country.  This conservancy helped in conserving the wildlife dispersal area and ecosystem beyond Amboseli National Park especially for elephants and big cats. Due to this buffer zone outside the park, a wide range of species including all the big cats, elephants, large numbers of giraffes, zebra, and antelopes and also the less common animals may be seen such as the long-necked gerenuk gazelle, lesser kudu and African wildcat returned after many years.

The area leased from the community involves maintenance and running cost of the conservancies as well as lease payment to land owners all of which are borne by the company from tourism revenue from guests staying in the Porini Camps.

Through the “Adopt-an-Acre” plan, the company is encouraging wildlife enthusiasts, safari lovers, friends and clients to adopt an acre of land in the conservancy for a year with a monetary donation to the Wildlife Habitat Trust, which manages the fund. The aim is to run this initiative until tourism recovers.

Before the covid-19 outbreak, Gamewatchers Safaris in 2019 directly paid a total of USD 863,783 for monthly rentals for protecting 42,500 acres of land for conservation. In addition, the 240 members of staff in the conservancies and camps drawn from the local Maasai community were paid USD 621,200 in wages per year. This is a total income of close to USD 1.5 million in rents and wages to the community, excluding the additional costs for managing the conservancies and running other community projects.

With the 42,500 acres of land leased contributing an income of approximately USD 1.5 million to the community per year, it means every acre contributes USD 35, with USD 20 channeled to payment of rents and USD 15 to wages. Therefore for a client who wishes to adopt an acre the contribution is USD 35 for 1 acre, 5 acres would be USD 175 and 30 acres USD 1050.

As a special incentive, anyone adopting 30 acres or more receives a credit from Gamewatchers Safaris for the same amount donated, to be used for payment of a stay at any of the Porini Camps in 2021 or 2022.

The success so far

This initiative has already registered great success since its commencement. According to the Wildlife Habitat Trust, as of 31st May 2020 it had received monetary donations from 471 individuals. Many of these have adopted 30 acres and above, which is indeed a very good news!

However, no initiative is devoid of challenges. In the case of “Adopt-an-Acre” plan these include: financial constraints among those who would wish to donate, and the fact that only those who understand the linkages between tourism, conservation and community development feel the enthusiasm and see the importance and urgency to donate.

What you can do to take part in the “Adopt-an-Acre” initiative

It is not known when income from tourism will resume to its pre-pandemic levels, but the silver lining is that these unprecedented times also present opportunities to create an impact in our own small ways. “What can I do to help?” That is a question many interested persons who read about such uplifting stories and want to create an impact often ask. You can be part of this initiative by offering a financial donation, all of which will contribute towards paying rents for the landowners and salaries for the staff. As mentioned if adopting over 30 acres you can make a significant difference now and still have it as a full credit towards a Magical Kenya safari at one or all of the  Porini Camps in the future – a true win win!

If you wish to be part of this initiative, please do this via Donorbox by filling the form available on the company’s website. For any queries or comments regarding this initiative, please feel free to contact the company directly on info@gamewatchers.com.

For more information regarding this important cause please visit the company’s website and social media pages on:

Website: https://www.porini.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gamewatchers

Twitter: https://twitter.com/porinisafaris

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxlItg5YCUvo2vFvlJOz3FA

 

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.