Maasai Mara Conservancies Get Some Relief

Topi, Maasai Mara. Image: Ray Manila/Flickr

The Maasai Mara is home to 25% of Kenya’s wildlife and the place of the greatest annual migration of animals on Earth. The land is owned by the indigenous Maasai people, who lease it to conservancies for tourism operations, which in turn fund conservation efforts that drive wildlife tourism.

The conservancy conservation model that makes up the Greater Mara has been one of the most promising and innovative conservation financing models in Africa — that is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, taking away the tourism revenue on which it depends.

Welcome news: this morning it was announced that the conservancies would soon find relief thanks to a loan program led by Conservation International (CI) in partnership with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association.

Why This Matters: The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt conservation efforts as travel has been restricted for eco-tourism and funder purse strings have tightened amid an economic downturn. The Mara is an incredible ecosystem but Maasai landowners are expecting to collect less than half of their annual lease payments this year. As such, the $5 million Maasai Mara Rescue Fund will provide a significant boost to the communities dependent on these lease payments.

As Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, senior vice president of the Africa Field Division at Conservation International, explained:

“The fallout in tourism due to the pandemic means communities are struggling to survive. These lease payments will help ensure the lands that make up the greater MaasaiMara remain wild, and that the communities that count on income from tourism are supported during this global crisis.”

The Terms: As CI explained, through the loan program, conservancies across the Maasai Mara will secure short-to-medium term funding to offset the revenue loss from COVID-19 and support long-term sustainability.

  • The loans will be repaid out of future tourism returns and conservation fees that the conservancies collect from tourism operators.
  • As a condition of the loan payments, the conservancies will be required to implement governance, operational and financial strengthening activities to ensure long-term sustainability of the conservancy model.
  • Further stakeholders are actively exploring opportunities to diversify revenue streams for this landscape.

In recent years land spats have ensued across the Mara, hopefully, the terms of these loans can help bolster adequate governance that ensures the prosperity of this ecosystem into perpetuity.

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