Dispatch | Kenya

Stepping it up

As part of my transition to Journeys by Design’s Chief Exploration Officer, I have temporarily relocated to my small cottage bordering the Maasai Mara where we are playing our part in the rewilding of 1,000 acres of degraded farmland. My wife Laura and I took the opportunity to dive deep into the Maasai Mara last week and visited a number of the Maasai-owned conservancies bordering the world-famous reserve.

As you may know, the conservancies bordering the Mara serve as essential ecosystem buffers that work like the lungs of the Mara, allowing the free flow of wildlife across a porous border with the Mara reserve, which itself connects into a contiguous Serengeti ecosystem stretching deep into northern Tanzania. It is, of course, home to one of the greatest wildlife migrations and some of the finest tented camps and safari operators on earth.


Travelling around the conservancies you would be forgiven for thinking how simple it all looks, how wild and free everything appears to be. The truth is that these landscapes are carefully managed and it takes considerable effort by respective landowners, management boards, tourism partners and conservation bodies to ensure the ongoing survival of these landscapes. The job of conservation is far from easy and often far from sight. The above and below images – taken while visiting the conservancies – are evidence of that work. There was a time when any leopard, cheetah, or lion on these lands would have been considered a threat.

With Africa’s population expected to grow by 2 billion by the end of the century there will be ever increasing pressure on these landscapes which we view as wild and free. Indeed some of the greatest pressures on land will come from this complex relationship between conservationists prepared to pay for wildlife and fast growing pastoralist populations with an eye on highly productive rangelands.

Wilderness is a diminishing and, therefore, increasingly valuable asset. Tourism plays its part to raise finance, enlighten travellers, and helps ensures we have experts ‘at their station’. These remote travel operators are, in many ways, the frontline eyes and ears of conservation who bear witness to ever-changing and complex landscapes like the Mara.

The fact of the matter is that few international tour operators and agents recognise the true cost of doing business in Africa. The industry as whole has taken more than it has given. If we were genuinely committed to a long-term stakeholder-led model then we would all be working harder to help close the US$ 711 billion global annual biodiversity funding gap. At present the majority burden falls on local landowners. If we are to help, then the only way forward is to work – together, united by a common purpose – towards creating a net positive world. Its not easy, but then nothing ever worth it has been.


Most urgently, if governments continue to restrict travel to Africa they will be directly complicit in the death of a range of very vulnerable operations already pushed to the maximum. I understand and support the need for countries around the world to ensure the safety of their citizens. However, I do wish they would operate a consistent, responsible, and enabling set of entry-and-exit protocols. Nobody wants to sit in a holding-hotel for 10 days. The majority of us are happy, however, to manage between 8 and 24 hours and wait for our test results. After nearly two years of vastly reduced revenue, camps are ready, borders are open, and a great deal has been invested in the high season, which starts this month. Another shutdown may well see the shutting down of frontline travel operators and with them one of Africa’s most important conservation resource.

On which long note, among the many excellent camps in the Mara, I thought I might end by sharing four standout conservation-driven outfits include: Mara Plains and their work with the Great Plains Foundation; Richards River Camp and their work with the Mara Elephant Project; Lowis and Leakey private mobile safaris and their work with the Mara North and TransMara Conservancies; and Serian Camp and the work that Alex Walker does with ‘Wild yet Responsible’ safaris.

Our sister charity Wild Philanthropy has made donations to each of the above at some point in our journey. Truly remarkable camps, these are the operations that are showing the way. They have committed themselves to Kenya’s wildernesses. They give and they give. It’s been an honour to have worked with them over the years, and I look forward to much more of the same. If you are considering travelling, and the Mara’s on your wishlist, then do consider them. As said, they’re outstanding.

For more on these four camps, please see below. For travel to Kenya and elsewhere, please do do give us a ring. If you would like to know more about our work, please get in touch with Will Jones or Paul Herbertson.

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