from warriors to conservationists
Following our great experience with Gamewatchers in the Maasai Mara, we booked another stay at one of their porini camps for our safari to Amboseli. The company practices eco-friendly, community-based safari tourism, engaging various tribal groups throughout Kenya in protecting the wildlife that drives the country’s booming tourism industry. It is a great business model, which brings employment opportunities and financial resources into communities that have traditionally been excluded while also ensuring a sustainable balance between tourism growth and the need to protect animal populations.
For the Maasai warriors who served as our guides, drivers, cooks, and porters, this represents a massive shift from the nomadic way of life they maintained a generation ago. Not long ago, it was customary for Maasai warriors to hunt lions. To complete his rite of passage, a young Maasai was obliged to go out into the bush alone and slay a lion. Now, the Maasai warriors play an integral role in the preservation of these majestic animals. The lions are tagged and tracked to protect them from poachers. Tagging the animals also has the added benefit of all but guaranteeing a successful safari experience for visitors to porini conservancies.
We arrived at the tented camp in the afternoon. The guides had met us after we had turned off the paved Nairobi-Mombasa thoroughfare. For the better part of an hour we followed their vehicle as it zoomed along unmarked dirt roads, kicking up so much dust that we frequently found ourselves obliged to come to a dead stop as our car became completely enveloped in dust clouds.
The boys were finishing up a post-lunch chess game when the camp manager came over and asked if we wanted to see lions. “They are very close,” he said. Sure enough, after a five minute drive, we came upon a pride of ten lions. There were several females and a bunch of cubs, but no sign of the male. “He is very shy,” our intrepid guides explained over and over as they circled around and plunged the vehicle into the brush. We never did find the shy lion, but for the rest of the trip, whenever the guides would point out an animal, be it a fringe-eared oryx or an ordinary cow, the vehicle would fill with muffled snickering as one of us would ask if the animal in question was very shy.