Maasailand is home to East Africa’s tourism industry. Due in part to Maasai cultural taboos that prohibit the killing of wildlife, Maasailand in Kenya and Tanzania is endowed with rich biodiversity and the highest wildlife concentrations in the world.
Among many wildlife preserves located in Maasailand are: Maasai Mara, Buffalo Springs, and Samburu Game Reserves, the Tsavo West, Amboseli, Hells Gate, and Lake Natron National Parks in Kenya, and in Tanzania the Serengeti, Mkomazi, Tarangire, Lake Manyara National Parks, as well as the Ngorongoro and Loliondo Conservation Areas. The world-renowned Oldupai (Olduvai) gorge, the site of anthropological discovery by the Dr. Leakey is in the heart of Maasailand. The landscape of the cross-border Maasai-Serengeti ecosystem is breathtakingly beautiful including the Ngorongoro, Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Mkomazi and Olduvai Gorge, all listed as World Heritage Sites- places of significant importance to the world. The unique wildlife and landscape coupled with the astonishing Maasai culture make Maasai Mara-Serengeti the most visited tourist destination on the continent of Africa.
Tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner in Kenya and Tanzania today, bringing over a million people a year to Kenya alone, mainly to see wildlife in the reserves and parks listed above. But in spite of the enormous economic benefits of tourism of governments, the industry poses serious threats to the environment, wildlife and culture of the Maasai people. Wildlife harassment, off-the-road driving, pollution, noise, and other unprofessional, unacceptable, and dangerous behavior by local guides and drivers that endanger both wildlife and tourists are a common occurrence. The situation is particularly disconcerting since local tour operators are unregulated and uneducated about Maasai culture. Unregulated development has flourished to the point where the carrying capacity of the environment is exceeded; water is overused and polluted, making it inaccessible to local communities. Greater threats are posed by unregulated conservancies that occupy former grazing land, leading to cattle grazing inside the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and subsequent animal/human conflict.
Tourism also holds great promise for the Maasai community. As more Maasai youth are trained and employed in the industry as field guides, chefs, lodge staff and even managers, wages remain in the community and those with jobs are sometimes able to live in their home communities rather than migrating to towns and cities for work. Women’s bead cooperatives and other local businesses and microenterprises are beginning to share in some small corners of profits of tourism. More tourists come to Maasailand looking for genuine connection and education about Maasai culture. For all of these reasons, ecologically sustainable community based tourism is an important part of the future vision of Maasailand.
Learn more about MERC effort to Reform Tourism by visiting our Maasai Field Guide Training Program. You can also check out some of the latest publications on Tourism Reform by visiting our Publications Page.