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MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE, KENYA
In the mid-1990s, Calvin and Louise Cottar set up Cottars 1920’s Camp, creating an experience reminiscent of their ancestors’ earliest safari traditions — unrushed, romantic elegance. The camp has its own 6,000-acre private conservancy, in southeast Mara, just one kilometre from the infamous Maasai Mara game reserve. The area is home to the remaining 7% of woodlands that support several species that are under threat, including Impala, buffalo, and giraffe. The region is also home to a large proportion of the Mara’s rhino population.
Conservation and community outreach are a priority at Cottars; more than 40% of employees are from the Maasai community, and they are actively encouraged to show-off their culture by wearing traditional dress and selling handicrafts. Since establishing the Cottars’ Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) in 1996, the camp has been successful in persuading local communities that it is more financially viable to protect wildlife than damage it. The CWCT is now advocating for the establishment of a new Olderikesi Conservancy, which would be managed by CWCT on behalf of the community and help conserve 6,600 acres of acacia and cedar forests, natural springs, grasslands and salt pans.
Guests visiting Cottars 1920’s Camp not only get to witness the peace and solitude of the conservancy (which is outside the busier Maasai Mara), but from July to October are perfectly placed to experience the great wildebeest migration. The well-spaced white canvas tents can host up to 22 guests and are as elegant on the inside as they are on the outside; stuffed with intriguing 1920s antiques. Besides from four-wheel drive safaris, guest activities include guided bush walks, village visits and river swimming.
Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp joined The Long Run in 2012 and committed to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region. They were awarded GER® recognition in 2015.
The South East Mara, where Cottars Camp is situated, represents the remaining 7% of the woodlands that historically supported such unique browsers as the impala, buffalo, giraffe and others species which are now under threat. Some of these browsing species have been reduced to 10% of their former populations. Through the establishment of the Cottars Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Camp has been actively engaged in the preservation of natural habitats and wildlife in the area. It contributes a significant portion of its revenues to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Since it was started in 1996, the CWCT has actively engaged with neighbouring communities, sensitising them on the importance of conserving the environment. It has, with great success, made communities realise that it is much more profitable to preserve wildlife than to damage the environment through activities such as farming.
As a testament to Cottars Camp’s unrelenting commitment to environmental conservation, the CWCT is working to set up a conservancy. Working with a land committee, comprising of representatives from the Maasai community that owns Olderkesi Ranch where the camp is built, the CWCT has been at the forefront of advocating for the establishment of the Olderkesi Conservancy. This conservancy would occupy an area of land of approximately 27 square kilometres that would be managed by the CWCT on behalf of the community.
The land earmarked for the conservancy is made up of a vegetation system – Acacia, Cedar and Riverine forests, grasslands, natural streams and springs and salt pans- reminiscent of what the Mara looked like 40 years ago. To ensure direct benefits for the community, a payment for ecosystem services model would be set up where tour operators, for example, would pay a conservation fee that the Camp would channel toward community development initiatives of its neighbours.
Cottars Camp maintains close ties to neighbouring communities and is keen to address the challenges they face. Through the Cottars Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) the Camp has for many years actively supported the Maasai community’s struggle to obtain land tenure which has been one of the main impediments to community development in South East Mara. Without land tenure, communities are essentially squatters on the land and therefore have no claim or decision-making power with regards to its use.
Until recently the Olderkesi Group Ranch had been one such parcel of land and been held in trust for the Maasai community by the Narok County Council – a local government body. To help build the land tenure case for the Ranch, the Camp funded land surveys, study tours and provided logistical support to representatives of the Narok County Council to assist them collect the data required to make a decision. As a result of these concerted efforts by the CWCT, the Olderkesi Group Ranch was declared as owned by the Maasai at the end of 2010.
As part of its continued commitment to community development, the CWCT currently supports a total of 139 pupils through its bursary scheme. It also trains youth in the community as tour guides and provides employment.
Cottars Camp is neighboured by the Maasai community, a tribe that has so far maintained its traditional way of life. The links between the Camp and the Maasai community are immediately obvious to anyone who visits as it encourages its staff to wear traditional Maasai attire. To ensure its guests don’t miss out on the intricacies of this vibrant culture, it takes them on excursions to various Maasai villages for them to experience Maasai culture first hand. It also provides a market for beadwork and other traditional handicrafts produced by Maasai women as an additional way of preserving Maasai culture.
Cottars Camp is truly a model business that balances out its commercial needs with its responsibilities to neighbouring communities. It always re-invests in the community through bursaries, training, providing medical care and by offering employment. More than this, it supports budding enterprises of Maasai women by providing a ready market, through its guests, for their beadwork and other handicrafts.