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MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE, KENYA
Kicheche Mara is a tented camp hidden in 74,000 acres of community-owned wilderness — the Mara North Conservancy. Established by private landowners and member camps to protect important migratory routes and restore previously overgrazed land, the conservancy now offers one of the most exclusive and sustainable safari experiences in the Maasai Mara. With only eight tents and one tourism bed per 700 acres, Kicheche is a model for low-density tourism.
Efforts made by the camp to establish a wildlife grazing scheme and getting local communities involved in the running of the conservancy has shifted Maasai attitudes towards wildlife; no longer seen as a threat, wildlife is a resource that needs protection. The Kicheche Community Trust has funded education and healthcare projects and the camp itself employs ten graduates from the local Koiyaki guiding school as guides and trainees. Employees at Kicheche Mara Camp are not only encouraged to climb the ranks within the camp but upskilled as individuals through computer and literacy classes.
People are drawn to the Kicheche Mara Camp for its intimate charm with comfortable tents overlooking the Olare Orok stream in a peaceful acacia valley. The camp is designed to leave no trace; naturally-coloured canvas tents are connected by stone paths and surrounded by uncut vegetation so wildlife can roam freely. Electricity is provided by solar power where possible and the introduction of rainwater harvesting has supplemented the yearly supply by 15%.
Kicheche Mara Camp joined The Long Run in 2014 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.
Kicheche Mara Camp is located in the Mara North Conservancy, a stunning private wilderness area of more than 74,000 acres of community-owned conservation land. It is a vital part of the Maasai Mara ecosystem as it forms the north eastern zone, bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Mara North Conservancy accommodates twelve member camps in a sustainable way that benefits the environment, the wildlife and the community. The Mara North Conservancy was set up as a partnership between the member camps and the landowners to protect animal migratory routes as well as the land from other incompatible land uses. The land was previously overgrazed and this partnership has allowed for its recovery. It has one of the lowest tourist and vehicle densities in the ecosystem due to managed volume and strict land-use plans, which are designed so that all parties benefit. The number of beds per camp is restricted based on Mara North’s formula of one bed per 350 acres (or one tent per 700 acres). Low-density tourism, as well as a limited number of game vehicles provides an exclusive safari experience, while minimizing the impact on the environment. There is a grazing scheme that allows landowners to bring their cattle into parts of the conservancy, which is a lifeline for them, especially in seasons when the rains fail or during the annual dry season.
The communities’ involvement in running these conservancies has raised their awareness of the symbiotic relationship between human activities and wildlife activities. It has also helped to change the attitude of the Maasai towards wildlife; rather than seeing them as a threat to be killed, they now see them as a resource to be protected.
In order to minimise their impact on the environment and wildlife, all member camps also strive to utilise environmentally friendly technologies such as solar panels, eco-burners, ‘green’ waste and waste water management systems, organic composting for fertilizers or bio-gas, as well as the use of eco-detergents and sustainably grown firewood.
The entire camp is designed so that if we were to move location, all evidence would be erased in one rain cycle. The tents are mainly canvas structures on flattened earth. Any stone structures are for health and safety reasons and do not have deep foundations. All materials used in camp are the natural colours of green, beige and brown. All footpaths are left natural with local stones aligned to demarcate the way. Natural vegetation has been left uncut to protect the land and prevent soil degradation. Local wildlife has been left to freely wander through the grounds on traditional routes, as the property has not been fenced.
Kicheche Mara Camp’s electricity is provided by solar power and hot water for showers is provided from solar water heaters. There is a backup generator for when weather is overcast. All firewood and charcoal used in camp is sourced from verified sustainable sources.
Within the Mara North Conservancy, the game viewing tracks are non-permanent and allowed to grow over each year. There are strict regulations governing off-road driving, which are laid out in the conservancy code of conduct and strictly adhered to by the staff of Kicheche Mara Camp.
Kicheche Mara Camp has set up rainwater collection in an effort to supplement groundwater harvesting currently supplementing 15% of consumption annually. In additional efforts to conserve water, we use bucket showers, which also help reduce consumption, a vital resource in the semi-arid environment that is the Mara ecosystem.
The Kicheche Community Trust
Established in 2004, the Kicheche Community Trust has become a reliable source of funding for projects in and around the communities where it operates. Its mission is to encourage the preservation of the environment whilst improving the welfare of the community through improved health and education facilities and revenue earning projects too. The Trust builds on four corner posts of Community Welfare: Education, Health and Family Care, Community Empowerment and Environmental Conservation.
“Our mission is to join with local peoples and partners to support traditional and sustainable ways of living in harmony with wildlife, ecosystems and the environment.”
The Kicheche Community Trust has over the years built and maintained several school classrooms. The Trust sponsors a primary school teacher and has funded part of his further education studies, donated thousands of school books and stationery, donated towards a school bus and funds about 15 educational bursaries per year.
Each year the Kicheche Trust sponsors one or two students at the Koiyaki guiding school. Kicheche Camp currently employs 10 graduates of the school as guides and trainee guides. The courses run for one year and focus on giving the Maasai a solid foundation in guiding disciplines.
The Kicheche Trust has, with the help of its partners built the Mara Discovery and Empowerment Centre, a community-based initiative where several self-help groups around Aitong have joined forces to operate income-generating activities such as:
The Mara North Conservancy (through Obel Foundation funding) has installed a full solar power system and 12 computers.
The Kicheche Trust has also been supporting the local Aitong (Mara) health clinic for many years, with the belief that healthcare is a basic right.
Donations made in the past include:
Every two years, the Kicheche Trust organises with a local theatre group S.A.F.E for an educative show/ play on HIV & Aids and FGM at the local market in Aitong to create awareness. Further information on these activities can be found at http://www.safekenya.org/
The presence of the Maasai Tribes is of considerable cultural significance. The majority of the people still live in traditional bomas and 50% of their income is derived from their livestock. Guests staying at Kicheche Camp have an opportunity to visit an authentic Maasai village and observe real traditional life. You learn how the Maasai live within the harsh environment and the importance of their way of life to them as well as the reasons they continue to preserve their culture. On these visits you have an opportunity to purchase local handicrafts that are also available in the gift shop located within the camp. Guests are also encouraged to visit the village on the market day for a chance to see the Maasai trading their cattle.
Tourism by its very nature contributes to raising awareness as it opens up the host country to individuals who otherwise may have no desire or knowledge to learn more about it. The camp employs qualified guides from the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, 94% of whom have a Silver qualification. This is quite a feat considering only 5% of all guides in the country have attained Silver qualification.
Kicheche Mara Camp, strives as much as possible to hire qualified staff from within the local community, only looking outside the community when individuals who meet the required standards are not available. Wherever possible the camp employs people who have potential to grow within the company. In doing so, this helps alleviate extreme poverty. In addition to providing employment, Kicheche Camps is continually providing training to its staff not just to better the service they provide the guests, but to better them as individuals. English training courses, computer courses, cookery courses, bakery course, and guide training courses amongst others are provided for the camp’s staff.
In addition, the camp’s presence in the Mara North Conservancy provides significant income for local landowners. The Mara North Conservancy believes that conservation of a natural wildlife area depends on the following components:
Kicheche Camp is a founding member of the Mara North Conservancy and still is very active in its policy making. Kicheche’s Managing Director is the vice chairman of the Board of Directors.
Kicheche Mara Camp has a gift shop which, in addition to stocking Kicheche branded items, stocks crafts and curios purchased from the women of the local communities.