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Empowering Maasai Youth to Lead in Wildlife Conservation, Conflict Resolution, and Sustainability

Life Net Nature adaptively mentors Maasai youth working on forest and wildlife conservation in Kenya

Photo of Dusti Becker

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

How can Maasai youth protect their community's wildlife, enhance local prosperity, and reduce land conflicts? Since 2012, Life Net Nature and Maasai youth have been monitoring wildlife, developing ecotourism, and campaigning for a community-based conservancy (protected area). Some 1,200 Maasai families live in the project area, the 80,000 ha Oloirien Group Ranch (OGR) on the western edge of Kenya's biggest wildlife tourism attraction, the Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai Mara is famed for its great wildebeest migration, lions, elephants, giraffe, zebra, cheetah, and other wildlife, and for its beautiful Maasai people. Many species of wildlife, notably giraffe and elephant, move from the Masai Mara to the ranch to use woodland and forest habitats for birthing, nursing, and raising their infants. Thus, the ranch supports the Mara's wildlife populations. Traditionally, Maasai have taken good care of the land and their livestock, and regard wildlife as "second cattle", living sustainably with them. However, human population growth in Kenya is fueling a demand for more land for agriculture and for timber and charcoal production. Oloirien families are leasing lands to farmers and selling priceless native trees for next to nothing. Elephants, giraffe, and many other wildlife are incompatible with crops, and farmers illegally eliminate them with poison arrows and spears. More than half of the 216 km2 Nyakweri forest has been destroyed. How can Maasai conservationists reduce human-wildlife conflicts and save Nyakweri forest and other habitats? Local Maasai conservationists are the only ones who can lead their community in protecting nature at Oloirien. A home-grown conservancy would reduce conflicts between people and wildlife, enhance economic opportunities for community members, and secure key resources for endangered elephants and other Mara wildlife. Solar and tourism profits, REDD+ funding, and grants could pay rents to finance a protected area.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries include young-adult Maasai with interest in wildlife conservation and nature tourism, a local Maasai community, wildlife of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, and the larger global community. Having grown up on the Siria Plateau next to the Masai Mara Reserve living with elephants, zebra, giraffe, lions, and leopards, many young Maasai on the Oloirien Group Ranch aspire to work in wildlife tourism and conservation. They need formal training and work experience in wildlife and tourism to reach their goals. Life Net Nature volunteer expeditions employ and train members of Maasai Morans Conservation and Walking Safaris (MMCWS) and top trainees can win Life Net Nature sponsored scholarships for national-level training in wildlife tourism. MMCWS and Life Net volunteers collect wildlife data to share with multiple stakeholders involved in conservation. We work to reduce wildlife-human conflicts and advocate for a community-based conservancy on Oloirien Group Ranch.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our long-term adaptive community-based approach involves local Maasai and volunteers from around the world in cross-cultural exchanges to drive wildlife conservation. Our bottom-up approach differs from similar initiatives in the area that tend to be top-down, command and control efforts with limited local buy-in and leadership. As a non-profit led by two PhD conservation biologists with combined experience exceeding 60 years, Life Net Nature has credibility and successes. We attract capable professional volunteers who bring new skill sets and insights to the local Maasai. We believe our approach will be more successful than others because we are all working towards a sustainable and visionary result, a community-directed conservancy. Our immediate goals include development of ecotourism, institution building, youth empowerment, and wildlife monitoring, and these all underpin the bigger goal: a conservancy at Oloirien Group Ranch on the Siria Plateau of Kenya.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Life Net Nature empowers people at the grassroots level to protect wildlife and their habitats while enhancing their own economic security and sustainability.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In 2011, Life Net Nature was assisting a Kenya start-up company to offer a birdwatching tour. While camped on the Siria Plateau, Ndoyop, a Maasai watchman, said hello to us (leaders), and we started to chat. We asked what some of the challenges were for his community and he said. "We have lots of well-educated young people who want to work in wildlife conservation and tourism, but most of the businesses won't hire local Maasai". We thought, hey, we can change that, and so the project began.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

On the Siria Plateau there are many conflicts over land ownership, land use and control of natural resources, and most of the unrest results from a lack of rules and frameworks made by and agreed upon by local people. Making a conservancy will bring people together to resolve conflicts as they develop rules and sanctions favoring peace and harmony between group ranches and factions within Oloirien leading to better stewardship of wildlife and natural resources. Good land use planning for a conservancy will lead to prosperity because there are a fair number of stakeholders willing to compensate land holders who participate and this will reduce financial uncertainty. Prosperity will be linked directly with sustaining resources that sustain people and wildlife. Protected forest will purify and retain water for use by people and wildlife. Elephant and giraffe nursery areas will boost tourism income within the conservancy making the community more financially sustainable.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

MMCWS and Dupoto Forest and Wildlife Association (DFWA), two community-based conservation organizations at Oloirien Group Ranch, will work with us to advance the project idea. Globally recruited volunteers will assist by participating on wildlife monitoring and professional development activities with the Maasai. Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) will be called upon to help Maasai youth conservationists identify and register Oloirien land owners and develop a management plan for a conservancy. Local tourism businesses based on the group ranch, a solar farm developer collaborating in the REDD+ carbon credit program, and the Mara Conservancy will help finance the new community-based conservancy and provide long-lasting management expertise. In past five years we assisted MMCWS in setting up an eco-campsite for adventurous tourists and trained members to lead walking safaris, monitor local wildlife, and do community-based outreach about nature conservation.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

1. Surplus of educated young adults wishing to work in wildlife tourism and conservation. 2. Indigenous Maasai knowledge about the local area and its wildlife. 3. A fascinating traditional culture that attracts attention. 4. Viable local conservation organizations and supportive stakeholders. 5. 80,000 hectares of land under community tenure. 6. Some native forest still in good condition with high conservation value. 7. .Resources that sustain endangered wildlife and attract concern.

Geographic Focus

Western Kenya, Transmara District, Siria Plateau, Oloirien Group Ranch, Maasai families

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Implementing a community-based conservancy at Oloirien Group Ranch is feasible within a 36-month timeline. We are five years in to this, so there is a lot of social capital on site to make things happen. The young Maasai conservationists are ready to work, and so are many members of the local community, and support stakeholders. We want to start a process, with good design thinking to guide and reflect on the process. We need help, so thank you for this helpful application process.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of David MUYAI OTIENO

Thank you for bringing such a meaningful project to the Nyakweri forest - such a rich culture, nice people, threatened rare species of animals and a beautiful land that needs to be conservation. But realizing that we can still naturally coexist among ourselves uniquely without degrading the ecosystem is such a wonderful approach.

Photo of Dusti Becker

David MUYAI OTIENO Appreciate this, especially knowing that you come from a small village in the beautiful outskirts of Lake Victoria, Kenya. Onwards with meaningful approaches that bring value to people and this planet.

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