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Kenya and a brilliant idea

On previous trips to Kenya, my game viewing was confined to national parks and national game reserves. Early this summer, I returned with a press group.

We did some of our game viewing in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Amboseli National Park, but we did more of it on adjacent private property. The land is owned by members of the Maasai tribe; the government only fairly recently deeded the land to the Maasai although the area has been their home for centuries.

Private conservation organizations have leased large chunks of the private lands, creating conservancies that guarantee rental income to the Maasai, who then make the land available for game viewing and help protect the wildlife.

It’s brilliant.

The idea is to assist in the survival of endangered and the not-so-endangered species by expanding protected areas for wild animals while enlisting the active support of local communities.

Maasai cattle may at times be seen grazing on conservancy land; they are as much a part of an ages-old ecosystem as are the wilder creatures.

It also is typical that tourists, for a nominal fee, visit a Maasai village and, in this way, provide still more support for the system when buying the beaded and other goods that the Maasai produce.

All of which is a long way to get to the No. 1 reason Americans visit Kenya — watching the big mammals and a lot of smaller species do their thing largely unfettered by human hands.

Accepting that a photo is worth a thousand words, the attached shots tell the rest of this story. The animals are compelling (I saved my favorite, the cheetah, for last in the lineup below), but get a load of their human neighbors and the scenery, too.

Giraffes visible from the airstrip where we landed on the Transmara Conservancy. This conservancy abuts the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya.

Giraffes visible from the airstrip where we landed on the Transmara Conservancy. This conservancy abuts the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya.

Maasai escorted our press group onto the grounds of Sanctuary Olonana, a tented camp on the Transmara Conservancy. The welcome also included singing and jumping displays.

Maasai escorted our press group onto the grounds of Sanctuary Olonana, a tented camp on the Transmara Conservancy. The welcome also included singing and jumping displays.

Zebras seen on the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya. They were likely on the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, which abuts the Maasai Mara National Reserve. A Great Plains Conservation guide/driver conducted our game viewing in the conservancy and the national reserve, which look much the same, given they are within the same Maasai Mara ecosystem.

Zebras seen on the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya. They were likely on the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, which abuts the Maasai Mara National Reserve. A Great Plains Conservation guide/driver conducted our game viewing in the conservancy and the national reserve, which look much the same, given they are within the same Maasai Mara ecosystem.

An example of the landscape on the Transmara Conservancy.

An example of the landscape on the Transmara Conservancy.

A Thomson’s gazelle, which seemed to be curious about us — or something nearby, seen on the Maasai Mara plains.

A Thomson’s gazelle, which seemed to be curious about us — or something nearby, seen on the Maasai Mara plains.

As frequently happens, impalas, at front, and topis, at the back, are seen together while grazing on the Maasai Mara.

As frequently happens, impalas, at front, and topis, at the back, are seen together while grazing on the Maasai Mara.

A leopard, accustomed to tourist vehicles, walks among us on the Maasai Mara seeking a high point. She eventually ensconced herself in a tree. Our guides said the animals view our vehicles as boxes that are not particularly meaningful to them.

A leopard, accustomed to tourist vehicles, walks among us on the Maasai Mara seeking a high point. She eventually ensconced herself in a tree. Our guides said the animals view our vehicles as boxes that are not particularly meaningful to them.

Wildebeest marching — and munching — on the Maasai Mara under the spectacular sweeping skies of southwestern Kenya.

Wildebeest marching — and munching — on the Maasai Mara under the spectacular sweeping skies of southwestern Kenya.

Maasai women, brightly attired and adorned with traditional beaded earrings and necklaces, were among villagers welcoming our group to their home near Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.

Maasai women, brightly attired and adorned with traditional beaded earrings and necklaces, were among villagers welcoming our group to their home near Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.

This dikdik, one of the world’s smallest antelopes, grazed outside my room on the grounds of Tortilis Camp, on the Kitirua Conservancy adjacent to Amboseli National Park.

This dikdik, one of the world’s smallest antelopes, grazed outside my room on the grounds of Tortilis Camp, on the Kitirua Conservancy adjacent to Amboseli National Park.

A pair of elands seen in the tall golden grasses of the Maasai Mara.

A pair of elands seen in the tall golden grasses of the Maasai Mara.

Wildlife viewing also included many birds, including this crested crane seen as we drove to an airstrip near Amboseli National Park.

Wildlife viewing also included many birds, including this crested crane seen as we drove to an airstrip near Amboseli National Park.

A cheetah walks toward us, as we gawk and remain safely in our vehicle, on the Maasai Mara. Our guide, who works for Great Plains Conservation, had almost magically spotted and brought us within photo range of a leopard and this cheetah within a little more than two hours.

A cheetah walks toward us, as we gawk and remain safely in our vehicle, on the Maasai Mara. Our guide, who works for Great Plains Conservation, had almost magically spotted and brought us within photo range of a leopard and this cheetah within a little more than two hours.

This blog and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, BestTripChoices.com editorial director and contributor to the trade newspaper, Travel Weekly. She also is the author of “Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia,” which was published by The Intrepid Traveler; it can be purchased at http://intrepidtraveler.com/travia-release/