Lands Stolen for ‘Conservation’ – Is There Another Way?

This month the Tanzanian government officially announced a new conservation area – good news surely?

However the earmarked area is home to the Maasai nomadic pastoralists – a community of people who have already squeezed into smaller and smaller areas in the name of conservation, in this case in the form of fee-paying tourists for trophy hunts.

The Tanzanian government say this 600 km2 ‘new’ area will act as a corridor between the Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park. This area has been leased to a safari tourist hunting company from the United Arab Emirates, the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), since 1992, and is used for six months of the year. The Maasai have resisted a full takeover for over two decades – but the area will now be turned into a big game park reserved exclusively for wealthy tourists to hunt, cutting off this community from crucial water sources.

This is not a new issue. More than 100,000 nomadic Maasai have been removed from their homelands since 1959 to create the vast Serengeti national park network.  In 2009, the last Maasai eviction, the situation quickly became violent as Maasai homes were burnt, people beaten and arrested. With this level of antagonism, also historically, has come retaliation towards conservationists and the wildlife they aim to protect.

The Nomadic Lifestyle

This is no simple dilemma, as on the one hand the Maasai claim thousands of years of custodianship, with a traditional aversion to hunting and eating wild animals. Their way of life through nomadic herding creates an ecosystem that is seasonably regenerative, encouraging new shoots for ungulates to graze on and open space that increases their chances against stalking predators. This view is backed by many leading researchers – and works because these groups are nomadic, therefore it can be argued the greater the restriction, the greater the environmental impact will be felt at a localised level.

However, on the other hand the pressure from livestock on the land is demonstrably increasing, as where wealth increases so too do the number of cattle in herds – this restricts the diversity of habitats stripping acacia trees, leaving only plains. Additional to this is the removal of the lion and hyena – top hunters targeted by young warriors – which act as umbrella species and are also integral to the ecosystem. This aspect would however remain unchanged with the current trophy hunting deal in place.

Over the Border

Over the border, the Mara Conservancy in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park is a rather different story. This not-for-profit company, with which Care for the Wild Kenya operates our anti-poaching, habitat protection and community conservation, utilises responsible tourism for ecosystem services. Care for the Wild Kenya’s Mara anti-poaching team consists of trained and skilled local community members who face wildlife crime on the front line.

The Mara Conservancy works with local leaders, provides infrastructure through tourist revenue and utilises responsible tourism partners to foster low impact environmental protection and employment opportunities for local groups. The eco-tourism model as seen here is not perfect, as distribution of power and wealth can cause conflict and there is a constant balancing of interests between pastoral and conservation uses of the land – however by working with the Maasai and spreading benefits from tourism across communities, conservation NGOs can better tackle the growing threats to African Wildlife.

The ultimate aim is to build the knowledge and skills needed to protect the fragile wild populations who live alongside these communities. Because when conservation works with the community, this translates to informants to tackle illegal wildlife crimes, farmers who adopt sustainable and environmentally friendly practices and non-lethal solutions to human-wildlife conflict issues.

Surely this model, though not perfect, is the route safari tourists should support – and the Tanzanian government should consider if they are truly serious about long term conservation of the stunning Serengeti ecosystem.

  • Read about Care for the Wild Kenya here.
  • Read our RIGHT-tourism guide to ecotourism for travellers here.
  • Read more on this story here.
  • The Maasai have started a petition on this issue – sign it here.