A Community-Led Model
The Maasai Mara of Kenya is one of the most spectacular wildlife regions of the world, and the Maasai people have coexisted with wildlife here for millennia. And yet, challenges to conservation are escalating with population growth, human-wildlife conflict, poaching, and climate change all taking a toll. We believe that for conservation to be successful in the long term, solutions need to come from people who live with the wildlife. We collaborate with grassroots partners here who are taking a community approach to preserving this treasure.
Engaging Young Hearts & Minds
Our goal is to inspire the next generation to become environmental leaders: by supporting conservation clubs at schools, developing wildlife libraries and learning resources, and sponsoring field trips so students can witness wildlife firsthand. Without these opportunities, many young people would not have this deep knowledge and direct experience, as wildlife is not part of their "modern" curriculum. We began this initiative in 2017 by working with Friends of Maasai Mara, based in Talek, and held a Gala for Conservation in California to purchase a vehicle and other supplies for educational outreach and to find donors in the U.S. to help them grow their organization.
Now we're working with Mara Girls Leadership School in Talek and the Mara Discovery Community & Empowerment Centre in Aitong, with conservation part of our broader educational initiatives. In 2019, we finished a library with a conservation strength at Mara Girls. In 2020, we're co-sponsoring a field trip to the Nairobi Giraffe Centre and the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage for the students of Mara Girls; and developing learning resources for Mara Discovery in support of their student wildlife programs. The children of today will determine the fate of entire ecosystems tomorrow.
The Need for Conservation Centers
Our next goal is to help community centers become the backbone of local conservation, as a place for learning resources and a hub for students, educators, conservationists, visitors, and community to come together. In 2020, we're funding the renovation of the tree nursery, recycling facility, wildlife library, and meeting space at Mara Discovery Community & Empowerment Centre in support of their conservation programs. Mara Discovery is an especially important site, as the only such place in the Aitong / Mara North area. In fact, the Mara North Conservancy was founded through community meetings here.
We'll continue working with Mara Discovery, and we hope to develop a second community conservation center in the Mara.
Why This Area Is Strategic for Conservation
The Maasai Mara ecosystem is home to 25% of Kenya's wildlife, with over 90 mammal species and 470 species of birds. Many of the world's most endangered and iconic species live here, including lions, cheetahs, savannah elephants, wild dogs, black rhinoceros, and Maasai giraffes. This is also the seat of the Great Migration, when from July to October each year over a million animals — wildebeests, zebras, elands,Thompson's gazelles — travel from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara and back.
The villages of Talek and Aitong, and the space between them, are right at the center of this wildlife-rich area, a stone's throw from the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the wildlife conservancies owned by local communities. 70% of the wildlife lives outside the National Reserve in conservancy lands. Keeping this larger ecosystem intact, open, and fenceless is vital for the survival of these wildlife populations.