Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kenya tourism drop threatens future of wildlife sanctuaries




Kenya tourism drop threatens future of wildlife sanctuaries

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Tourists have long flocked to Kenya’s majestic savanna to see animals like the giraffe graze in their habitat but coronavirus is killing the tourism industry and impacting wildlife reserves. AFP

Kenya tourism drop threatens future of wildlife sanctuaries

In the majestic plains of the Maasai Mara, the coronavirus pandemic spells economic disaster for locals who earn a living from tourists coming to see Kenya’s abundant wildlife.

Even before the virus arrived in Kenya mid-March, tourism revenues had plummeted, with cancellations coming in from crucial markets such as China, Europe and the US.

According to the tourism ministry, the sector has lost $750 million this year – roughly half of the total revenue in 2019.

“We were fully booked in June but now we have zero bookings. Nothing. It’s terrible,” said Jimmy Lemara, 40, the manager of an eco-lodge in the private Ol Kinyei conservancy.

In the Maasai Mara, one of Africa’s most highly-rated wildlife reserves located in the vast flat plains of the Great Rift Valley, the local Maasai community, traditional herders who make up 2.5 per cent of the population, now depend almost exclusively upon tourism for their livelihood.

In a unique model set up to engage local communities in tourism, enabling them to see the value of wildlife and thus protect it, the Maasai now get revenue from renting their land to form private wildlife conservancies.

Some work as cooks, guides and security guards in the lodges while others give tours of their traditional homes or sell homemade crafts to tourists.

‘Survival mode’

People in Talek, a dusty town situated at one of the entrances to the Maasai Mara national reserve, are gloomily buckling down, hoping for better days.

Kenya has announced international flights will resume on August 1, but the high season is already lost.

“Since December, work has been extremely low, and now we’re in survival mode hoping to make 150 to 200 shillings ($1.4 to $1.9) a day, to be able to buy a meal,” said Ibrahim Sameri, 38, whose small mechanic workshop can generate up to $30 a day in the high season.

Nalokiti Sayialel normally sells bead necklaces and bracelets to tourists passing through.

“It’s been three months that I haven’t sold anything,” the 45-year-old told AFP.

“This is terrible. Everything is stuck. Everything is shut down. (I have) never seen something like that”, said tour guide Petro Nautori who has had no work since January.

The Maasai Mara national reserve, run by the Narok county government, extends to the north with several privately-managed conservancies renting land from the Maasai who in exchange do not graze their cattle or settle there.

This model has since 2005 allowed the doubling of the habitat for wildlife in this area.

On average, each land owner earns $220 per month, far more than the minimum wage in the area.

Forced to sell livestock

However like other conservancies, Ol Kinyei is struggling and has agreed to only pay half the usual rent to the Maasai, after having to pay back deposits to tourists who cancelled their holidays.

The salaries of lodge employees have also been cut by half.

Some Maasai families are having to turn to selling their precious livestock to earn money.

“Because we’re getting little and it’s not enough to sustain the family for a living, I had to sell two goats worth about 12,000 shillings to put on top of what I’m getting to keep me going,” said Julius Sanare, 41, head chef at the eco-lodge in Ol Kinyei.

However livestock markets have been shut due to coronavirus prevention measures.

Residents said the Maasai are instead selling their animals on the black market for a pittance to unscrupulous buyers taking advantage of their desperation.

Mohanjeet Brar, managing director of Porini safari camps which run two conservancies and several lodges in the Mara, said the “catastrophic” situation could threaten the existence of the reserves.

“If the landowners are not getting any revenue, they can’t feed themselves, they can’t send their kids to schools, they would have no option but to look at other forms of land utilisation,” he said.

“Fencing it off, selling it to people, building businesses . . . all those alternate land uses don’t go together with wildlife and elephants and big cats and so this would be completely lost,” he said.

“And once it’s lost, if you look at Kenya and its very fast population growth rate and good economic growth over the last few years, it would be lost forever. It would be a real shame.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen says Kingdom not a 'satellite country'

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had sent diplomatic notes to various embassies demonstrating its stance and clarifying allegations that the Kingdom is a satellite country of China which will allow it exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. The response

  • Vast Prince Manor fun park opens to much fanfare in Kandal

    Chinese-owned Prince Culture and Development Co Ltd officially launched the $85 million Prince Manor entertainment centre in Kandal province on Wednesday. Prince Manor is located along National Road 1, 20km from the centre of Phnom Penh. It is the first major theme park project in Cambodia and

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Cintri strike ends, workers’ contracts to be terminated

    CINTRI (Cambodia) Ltd rubbish collectors who have been on strike for the past 13 days agreed to return to work starting Wednesday evening after the company agreed to terminate their contracts at the end of January next year and provide seniority payments and other benefits to