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Improving the Maasai Mara's allure

COMMENTARY
By OLIVER MWENDA | November 23rd 2016
The Mara’s global allure attracts a sizeable number of international tourists based solely on its safari experience. The increase in tourism numbers and the need to create accommodation to meet this demand has posed a number of challenges.PHOTO: COURTESY

Maasai Mara is undoubtedly one of the last frontiers for unadulterated wilderness experience in the country. For decades, the reserve has served as a source of foreign exchange, attracting approximately 500,000 tourists every year.
There is something about the Mara that continues to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year; it’s all about the wildlife, the people, the culture and the safari experience.

This is why it is imperative that this great reserve is protected and sustained to play its vital role in the greater Mara ecosystem.

The Mara’s global allure attracts a sizeable number of international tourists based solely on its safari experience. The increase in tourism numbers and the need to create accommodation to meet this demand has posed a number of challenges.

First, one of the notable concerns raised by conservationists is the proliferation of illegal hotels and lodges in the reserve, which threaten the natural habitat. This concern has informed the county government's decision to undertake an audit of all lodges and hotels in the Mara.

This audit is meant to ascertain the legal operation of hotels, environmental issues and the status of their operations. The county intends to take the necessary corrective action to ensure compliance of the hotels in terms of environmental and regulatory requirements.

The county government has also embarked on an overhaul of the Mara’s operations under a new management plan (Masai Mara management plan) that incorporates international best practices in conservation.

The main objective of the plan is to ensure conservation of the reserve’s globally significant biodiversity, maintain the role of the reserve as the flagship of Kenya’s tourism industry; Improve, on a sustainable basis, the revenues generated by the reserve, to support community livelihoods and to provide a practical management framework to support reserve managers in carrying out their day-to- day management responsibilities.

The management plan legislation is before the county assembly. Among the provisions in the plan is strengthening the governance structure of the park by creating a semi-autonomous board to manage affairs of the reserve.

To improve revenue collection, the Kenya Airport Parking Services (KAPS) has been contracted and this has resulted in the automation and significant growth of revenue collected.

In order to ensure the local community around the reserve benefits, the county government has established a community support fund where 19 per cent of revenues from the park is allocated to support development initiatives. The allocation is expected to promote the community’s economic activities and reduce human-wildlife conflict in the region.

Kenya’s tourism has borne the brunt of negative travel warnings, which resulted in dwindling tourist numbers to the Mara. The past two years have however witnessed tremendous improvement in the country’s security, which has resulted in substantial increase in visitor numbers.

The county government is however not resting on its laurels. To ensure tourist safety and comfort at the Mara, the county government has invested heavily in security by recruiting and training a total of 307 rangers.

The rangers have undergone rigorous paramilitary training at the Kenya Wildlife Training College and also trained in various courses, including poaching control and human-wildlife conflict management.

Poaching remains a serious concern that requires constant vigilance to arrest. To put this into context, a total of 2,700 poachers have been arrested in the Mara eco-system and over 40,000 snares recovered in the past 14 years.

These worrying statistics reveal why security remains a paramount concern. In improving the state of the infrastructure to the reserve, The national government set aside Sh2 billion to upgrade the 84km Narok-Sekenani gate road. The contractor is already on site and we expect the road to be commissioned soon by the president.

The county continues to maintain and improve the park's infrastructure. These initiatives are expected to make it easier for visitors to access the Mara and reduce the tour operators' cost of doing business.

The status of the Mara as a premier safari destination remains unchallenged. The reserve was recently ranked Africa’s leading national park by WTA, beating South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

The county government continues to work closely with partners and other players in the conservation and tourism circuit to ensure we protect the rich and varied ecosystems at the Mara.

We are witnessing resurgence in the wildlife numbers at the park, which is an affirmation that the measures undertaken by the county are bearing fruit.

It’s hard to put into words an experience in the Mara, so stop debating and procrastinating, get your safari boots on, come and experience the magic of the Mara this holiday season.

 

 

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