There is a reason why Kenya's Maasai Mara is so famous. Not only is this World Heritage Site Kenya's most visited reserve, famous for its high density of herbivores and predators, it also protects one of the planet's last great migrations of mammals, including about 2 million wildebeests, and a thousands of gazelles and zebras, which visit between July and October.
Now large herds of tourists aren't my cup of tea, so while I just had to tick the Mara off my bucket list of must-see wildlife places, I didn't want to share it with dozens of other homo sapiens in their open-top land cruisers. That's one reason why I chose to use Asilia as my ground operator for my first group safari in the Mara, because their intimate, small camps make for an experience that is private and exclusive, and being in the private conservancies bordering the reserve itself you're not lining up at cheetah kills with 17 other cars full of tourists. I can't tell you what a huge difference this makes to your safari.
The other reason I chose Asilia is for their positive community and conservation impacts, which my group contributed to simply by going on the safari. We stayed at Naibosho Camp and the Mara Bush Houses, both part of unique conservancy partnerships that directly benefit local Maasai land owners, not only through paying rent in hard cash from the money people like us pay for the privilege of being there, but also through a whole lot of other benefits, like guide training, scholarships for primary school students and future conservation leaders. This is exactly the kind of tourism I like, because not only are the camps themselves low environmental impact (Naibosho is almost entirely run on solar and they use bucket showers to minimise water use), but they are sustainable in the long term because they're directly linked to and benefiting communities.
So, all in all, a truly ethical safari with an absolutely brilliant bunch of Aussies. And the wildlife.... Holy moly! I don't think I've ever seen the sheer volume of animals that we saw in the Mara anywhere else in Africa. The wildebeests were in their tens of thousands, far too many to count, and the sense of space you get on the vast plains of East Africa can't be compared with anywhere else. And of course the huge numbers of herbivores draws big prides of lions. One group we saw had 9 cubs and at least 4 adults in the group. Lions mating. Lions stalking. Lions lying around, which of course is what they do best. I've never seen so many lions in one place.
A talk by resident Danish lion expert, Niels Mogensen, from the Mara Naibosho Lion Project, on the first day, really put things in perspective. The thing is, when you go on safari in a national park to see the animals, you could easily overlook the fact that there are local indigenous communities that live on the periphery and who are living with the wildlife and without their buy in the wildlife wouldn't stand a chance. Maasai culture is centred on their cattle, which represent wealth and status, and over-grazing by cattle could be a serious threat to the Mara ecosystem, but community-based tourism gives them an alternative income source. Maasai herders are compensated if a lion kills one of their cattle. It's not perfect, and it's an ongoing process to try and find a harmony between people's needs, their culture and the conservation of wildlife. But I think all of my group walked away with a deeper understanding of the reality of conserving this region's wildlife, and the challenges local community and conservation workers face in finding a balance that works for everyone.
Now time for just a few of my favourite pictures showing a few of the highlights of our safari.... And if you'd like to experience the Maasai Mara with me, I can't recommend it highly enough and I will be taking a group there for the wildebeest baby boom from 20-27 February next year so please contact me if you'd like to join. This is no ordinary safari. You'll be with me and a small group of like-minded individuals on the experience of a lifetime, hand picked and organised by me all the way through. Here's what a couple of my group members from this trip had to say about it!
"It was such a wonderful time the group was great thoroughly enjoyed our meals with each other as it was still intimate with the 13 of us! Such fun we had! With you as our leader you were just perfect! I am so glad I have met you (finally) and travelled with you, you are an inspiration! Keep up all your fantastic work!" Leonie Bayley
"Tammie, it was such an amazing time- it all seems like a dream!! It certainly was the experience of a lifetime. You did an amazing job coordinating it all and creating such a wonderful experience for all of us. Hopefully one to be repeated!" Sheelin Coates