A win-win situation

Paul Udoto speaks to Sammy Ole Mpusia, a hunter-gatherer turned game-warden in Ol Kinyei Conservancy in the Mara

Mara-porini-camp13Tell me about yourself.
I was born in 1974 from a lineage of Ndorobo hunter-gatherers and now I am in charge of 18 rangers.

What inspired you to work as a warden?
The conservancy investor offered a win-win situation for both wildlife and our community through land lease revenues and employment.

What was the situation like before the conservancy? 
For many years I was unemployed and struggling to feed my family. Life was difficult, with land degraded through overgrazing, charcoal burning and sand harvesting. We could see tourist vans coming to the Masai Mara National Reserve yet we got no tourism revenues.

So what happened?
An investor, Jake Grieves-Cook, who had a successful conservancy in Selenkay in Amboseli, approached us with an irresistible offer to lease our land for low-impact wildlife tourism. Besides, he would employ us as camp staff, tour guides, drivers, wildlife spotters, rangers and wardens. We accepted the offer and there has been no turning back. In fact, I own 70 head of cattle, yet before the conservancy I only had six goats.

Had such conservancies been set up before?
No. In fact Porini Safari Camps were the pioneers of successful community-owned conservancies in Kenya. We have since expanded to form the Mara model of conservancies.

So, what sets Porini Camps and the conservancy model apart from other ways of conservation?
We complement national parks and reserves by working with communities to secure wildlife corridors and dispersal areas while earning community livelihoods. The conservancy concept’s triple bottom line comprises the environment, community and tourism.

What’s the secret behind Porini Camps and conservancies?
Unlike other conservancies, our lease payments go to individual landowners’ bank accounts, not group ranch officials. We also insist on low-density tourism through self-imposed limits to vehicle numbers and exclusive, small, eco-friendly, temporary tented camps with a maximum of one tent per 700 acres and no more than 12 tents per camp. Our land lease payment system is not pegged to the number of tourists. So, we are not dependent on large numbers of visitors.

Has this been replicated in other wildlife-inhabited areas?
Yes. There are many examples of this successful model, such as Selenkay Conservancy in Amboseli, Olare Motorogi, Naiboisho and Enokashu conservancies in the Mara Conservancy as well as Rhino Camp in Ol Pejeta.

The Serengeti Mara ecosystem has been degenerating at an alarming rate? Why is that?
The ecosystem is threatened by various factors such as the sub-division of community ranches, mass-market concrete lodges, high-impact unsustainable tourism, human-wildlife conflict, intensive farming, fencing, sand harvesting in rivers, charcoal burning and poaching. On the whole, the continued survival of the greater Mara’s amazing wildlife appears uncertain unless quick action is taken. The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem risks becoming a victim of its own success.

What is the significance of the conservancy model? 
The replication elsewhere of the Porini Safari Camps and conservancies model is the key to the survival of the greater Mara and can inspire other communities interested in partnerships with private investors.

Do you fear losing your land to crooked investors?
Not at all. We not only have watertight land lease agreements but we also have a direct stake as employees of the conservancy. In any case, we retain our land title deeds.

The highest moment in your career?
When my community agreed to expand Ol Kinyei Conservancy from the initial 8000 acres by an additional 9434 acres, on their own volition.