May 2006 was a landmark date for conservation in the Maasai Mara with the formation of Olare Orok Conservancy bordering the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. This was the date when a deal was brokered with the 277 Maasai landowners that has since become the template for the Mara community wildlife conservancies and a blue-print for the sustainability of the greater Maasai Mara eco-system. The Conservancy later expanded to also encompass Motorogi lands, thereby becoming OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY.
Prior to 2006, the Olare Orok and Motorogi Conservancies’ 35,000 acres of prime grasslands, riverine forests and Acacia woodlands were populated by rural homesteads and grazed in an uncontrolled manner by large herds of cattle, sheep and goats. The eco-system was over-grazed and sustainability of the habitat for both people and wildlife was being destroyed. After many meetings with the local Maasai it was agreed that a new community conservation vision should be tried to address sustainability of their land and to add value in both income and conserving vegetation, so that a combination of wildlife tourism and sustainable rotational grazing would create a win-win situation for both the Maasai landowners and the wildlife of the Maasai Mara eco-system. Moving from a bed night system of payment to a monthly rental from the safari camps has given the Maasai landowners a reliable, steady income. The management of OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY is conducted by a Board consisting of representation from both the Maasai landowners and tourism partners in conjunction with donors who were instrumental in supporting the Conservancy.
The management, together with facilitators and elders, brokered the removal of homesteads and the reduction in domestic livestock herd sizes within core conservation areas, in particular diurnal refuge areas for predators were left completely free of domestic livestock. As a result, the Conservancy has once again become a haven for big cats and part of the annual wildebeest migration route. OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY now offers some of East Africa’s finest, year-round wildlife viewing. The area boasts one of the highest density of lions per square kilometer in Africa and over 50 different species of raptors have been identified.
Tourism in the Conservancy is limited to a maximum of 94 beds in five mobile camps. This equates to a ratio of one game-viewing vehicle for every 2,100 acres, a move that is aimed at maximising the client wilderness experience and minimising the environmental impact of tourism.
OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY is a partnership between 277 landowners and five tourism operations, founder members Porini Lion Camp and Kicheche Bush Camp later joined by Mara Plains Camp, Olare Mara Kempinski and Mahali Mzuri. The Conservancy is managed by Olpurkel Ltd, a not-for-profit company whose shareholders are the operators, controlled by a Board of equal representation from both the landowners and the tourism partners along with representatives from the Olare Motorogi Trust. This ensures that the Conservancy is run in a fashion that maximises the benefits for all the interested parties no matter how diverse their interests and needs are. This has led to an interesting blend between conservation and traditional pastoralism. A recipe that incorporates the puritan elements of conservation with the commercial needs of making the Conservancy self-sufficient, combined with traditional knowledge gathered through centuries of experience.
OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY has adopted a holistic approach to grazing and pasture management within the Conservancy; an approach that is not far removed from the traditional Maasai system where the elders would decide on which areas were grazed and which were left for leaner times. The “Kundi Moja” or one herd system is where the landowners control-graze a small area in a tight formation of their herds and will graze this short before moving on to the next designated area.
These short grass areas, once vacated by the cattle, become hot spots for short grass loving herbivores. Water catchments are planned and constructed with these grazing patterns in mind, ensuring that there are close watering points for both cattle and wildlife. Roads and fire breaks are also planned to minimize the environmental impact of visitors in the Conservancy whilst maintaining the quality of experience for visitors. Management has a policy of employing from its landowner community wherever possible and encourages its partners to follow suit, maximising the benefits derived from conservation tourism. The Conservancy has strict environmental policies and stipulates that the environmental footprint of its operators is kept to a minimum, insisting on mobile camps with no foundations, proper garbage and waste disposal policies and adherence to a strict Code of Conduct with regards to both camp operations and the behavior of their clients and guides whilst in the Conservancy. Management works closely with the Olare Orok & Motorogi Trust which supports the Conservancy and helps spread the benefits of conservation to a far wider community than the immediate recipient landowners.
Management also works closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in animal health and welfare and have assisted research foundations such as Living with Lions and Colorado State University with research and collaring programs like the recent collaring of 18 wildebeest from the Loita herds to study their little known migratory route: www.gnulandscape.com.