Day 5: Friday 4 March 2016
This is my second day at Eagle View in the 50,000 acre Naboisho Conservancy. The picture above shows the view from the balcony. It’s a different kind of habitat than the grassy plains of the Masai Mara and it’s different from the National Park in some other important ways too.
In Maa (the language of the Masai or Maasai) Naboisho means ‘coming together.’ The Conservancy opened in 2010 after several years of negotiation between 500 Masai landowners to create a community-based commercial nature reserve. It is entirely owned and managed by the Masai community, and nature-tourism here has a lighter touch than in the National Park.
Visitors are limited to manageable numbers. That means fewer safari vehicles and less pressure on game. There are strict rules about the number of vehicles that can attend a sighting, and the distance they must keep. Cattle are grazed within the area on a strictly managed basis and the Masai continue to co-exist with the wildlife of the savannah as they have done since time beyond memory.
All the safari guides and many of the other staff at the half dozen low impact camps are Masai. There is a Guide School, supported by the Basecamp Foundation that gives an excellent year-long training, now for women as well as men. It’s been a long haul according to Steve, my Masai guide, but for him and others like him the Conservancy appears to represents their best hope to maintain the essentials of a Masai culture whilst recognising and benefitting from a changing world.
For me, this amalgam is vividly represented by Masai night guards, dressed in traditional costume and armed with spears, sitting round a fire texting their friends and families on their smart phones.
At first sight, the juxtaposition might lead you might think they are just putting on a fancy-dress show for tourists. But don’t be fooled. The camps are unfenced and their company and patrols after dark are all we have to keep us safe from intruding predators.
Lars Lindkvist, the Norwegian President of the Basecamp Foundation has been intimately involved in initiating and setting up the project but it is the Masai community that makes it possible. They have chosen to swim against the tide of individualistic materialism so that all can benefit.
The Naboisho Conservancy is a model for community environmental development from which we could all learn, a rare and successful example of refusing to collude in the seemingly (but not actually) unstoppable tragedy of the commons.