Not such untouched land. . .
The Serengeti is ‘a wilderness’ only to the extent that no commercial roads cut through it. There are virtually no roads in the adjacent village lands either. So it certainly seems that animal movements are much as they would have been for millions of years. Endless plains dotted with only a few flat topped acaias and wooded koppies…
But, in reality, this apparently virgin bush is far from having been untouched by human hand. On the contrary, before the national parks and reserves were gazetted, local people had been utilising the Serengeti for livestock and hunting in a way that allowed both wildlife and people to thrive.
For more than 200 years, Maasai pastoralists migrated large distances with their precious cattle and left the landscape to recover between periods of grazing. This was much to the advantage of the wild plains game. But it’s only quite recently that this conservation role has been fully appreciated.
The Maasai ’empire’
The Maasai of East Africa are the descendants of Nilotic people. They moved south in the wake of the desertification of the Saharan ranges. These Maasai speakers once controlled about 60% of what is now called Kenya. They spread out in all directions from the Great Rift Valley, into Uganda and into Tanzania. However the Maasai were not looked after when they were ousted from their ancestral lands to create the wildlife sanctuaries.
The cattle-keepers were viewed rather as hooligans in the 1950s. And they are still seen as stubborn and anachronistic by the present authorities. Tourism has brought their communities mixed benefits and, unfortunately, a very unequal distribution of the economic rewards.
Increased competition for scarce resources between increasing populations of both wild animals and people is causing friction. New thinking is that the only way forward is to reconnect the needs of the wildlife with those of local communities. So we need to recover the old interdependence. It’s increasingly clear that some of the best managed wildlife sanctuaries are Maasai-owned.
Get a closer picture
One of the best ways you can support both the threatened culture of the Maasai, as well as wildlife, is to spend time in one of the Game Controlled Areas in Tanzania. Or one of the Conservancies in Kenya. Here you will be able to see cattle and game co-existing. And talk to the Maasai about the future as they see it. . .
Throughout Africa, tourism plays a vital role in sustainable development and the conservation of wildlife and the environment. (Relatively) wealthy visitors contribute directly to local economies to create jobs and infrastructure. With huge pressure on scarce resources and wild habitats it is often only this value that visitors place on the natural environment and its wildlife that makes it viable for governments to conserve some of the world’s most special places.
The real win-win here is that by choosing to stay with the Maasai for some of your Serengeti migration safari. You’ll get a better game viewing experience. And there is less chance that the wisdom of the Maasai will be swept aside.
One of our favourite such options is also, happily, one of the more affordable. Combine stays in the Selenkay Conservancy and the Ol Kinei Conservancy in the Mara and you can enjoy a 6 night drive/Fly Kenya Adventure Camping Migration Safari .
Activities include morning and afternoon game drives. All day game drives with a picnic lunch are also on offer. This is especially popular for guests who wish to delve deep into the Masai Mara National Reserve to witness one of the famous river crossings. Bush walks with Masai are another highlight. Being on foot offers a completely different perspective on the game and the flora.
Dome tents not for you? Check out Porini Safari and Diani Beach which features the rather more upscale sister camps from the same safari outfit. Or check out Chem Chem which puts walks with the Maasai at the heart of the safari experience. Or just ask us about which camps focus more on working with the Maasai people.
Both for their benefit and for yours.