When I was in Kenya last fall I visited a school that was trying to enlist the Masai in the importance of conserving the lands in which they live. Time has just published a brief peek at my findings.
After we pull our land rover off the track to watch a pair of leopards, I ask my two safari guides what animal they’d be most excited to see. I’m thinking elephants, lions, rhinos — the charismatic megafauna that attract tourists from across the world. Their answer: aardvarks and porcupines, the reclusive nocturnal residents of Kenya’s Masai Mara. “I took care of cattle on the Mara when I was a boy,” says Jackson Tinka, 21. “So I’ve seen a lot of wildlife.”
Tinka and his companion are what was until recently a rarity in Kenya’s biggest-drawing game park: tour guides working in the land of their fathers. Though the vast stretch of savanna lies in territory owned by the Masai, until a few years ago the red-robed pastoralists made up less than 20% of those employed in its camps and lodges. Those who could find work did so mostly as low-paid camp guards. Yet there’s a growing realization that the Masai and the 590-square-mile (1,530 sq km) national reserve share a common future. The tribe’s fortunes will most likely be found in the tourists who provide Kenya with the bulk of its foreign exchange — and in the wildlife those tourists pay to see.
UPDATE: Check out more photos from this trip here.