Mixed reactions over ban on private vehicles in Maasai Mara

Oloolaimutia gate at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. [Robert Kiplagat, Standard]

The ban on the use of private cars for game drives in Maasai Mara Game Reserve continues to attract mixed reactions.

Tour Guides and Drivers Association has supported the directive by Narok Governor Patrick ole Ntutu’s directive.

On June 5, the Narok County government banned the use of private vehicles for game drives to control the flow of tourists into the world-famous park ahead of the wildebeest migration set to kick off in July 2024.

The Tour Guides and Drivers Association Chairman Tarakwai ole Tira, Jackson ole Rakwa (Secretary), and Peter ole Narok (Treasurer) said the 186 guides solely depend on tour guiding in the Mara for a living.

“Our association is made of purely local members of the Maasai community who live around the reserve and depend on game drives for a living, so when private vehicles were allowed to continue operating in the reserve it jeopardised our livelihood,” said Ole Narok.

The Treasurer said the association operates more than 300 land cruisers in Sekenani, Talek, and Oloolaimutia for game drives in the Mara and conservancies, but sometimes they lose business when tour agents from Nairobi book off-road vehicles for their clients.

“Some of these agents don’t want to use local guides and their vehicles and instead hire vehicles to Mara for game drives, especially during the peak season,” he said.

Speaking to The Standard at the Sekenani gate Tuesday, the officials said they are conversant with the terrain and their members are trained and act professionally while on duty. 

But senior counsel Taib Ali Taib has written to the Narok county government questioning the decision to ban the use of private cars for game drives in Maasai Mara.

Taib demanded to know whether the decision was made under a law or a by-law or an administrative action.

The lawyer further demanded to know whether public participation was conducted before making the said decision.

Taib asked the county government to revoke the notice within 10 days failure to which he will challenge the decision in court.

In a press release last week, the Narok governor said that private cars will no longer be used for game drives in Maasai Mara due to noise pollution and unauthorized gatherings.  

Ntutu noted that some occupants of private cars have been displaying blatant misconduct inside the park, flouting regulations and endangering their lives.

“The prohibition has been necessitated by a series of compelling factors, including but not limited to, instances of misconduct, reported incidents of misconduct by drivers and occupants of private vehicles, blatant disregard for reserve regulations,” said the county government in the notice.

Narok County further accused drivers of private car of taking off-road navigations for their pleasure, later necessitating rescue operations that ran into the night.

Majority of tourists have been using private car users in the park to cut costs and hold parties in the wild.

The county government said that sanctioned vehicles are accompanied by proficient guides, extensively trained in reserve protocols, ensuring safe and compliant exploration of the park.