Supporting Africa Series
With the next in our “Supporting Africa Series” we move to look at East Africa, a different country with a different environment both physically, economically and culturally provides different opportunities and challenges.
Cottar’s is one of East Africa’s oldest names in safari, Charles Cottar started operating safaris in 1919 as Cottar’s Safari Services, now in the hands of his grandson Calvin Cottar the operation and the properties may have developed but the passion and love for Kenya, its wildlife and people, has not changed.
Cottar’s run three properties in the greater Masai Mara ecosystem; 1920’s Camp, Bush Villa and Conservation Camp. In this blog we will highlight the way in which Cottar’s is a vital part of their ecosystem and community and the importance of supporting them for the post- corona world into which we will emerge.
The reason that we love Cottar’s as a safari destination is that their focus has always been to run camps that are ecologically sensitive while delivering incredible authentic safaris and pairing them with accommodation that mixes style and comfort with a feeling of being immersed in the area that you are there to appreciate.
They are located in one of my own favourite parts of the Mara/Serengeti Ecosystem, right on the border between the two with a mix of terrain including rolling hills with stunning views, beautiful and iconic grass plains and pockets of wild woodlands.
Cottar’s Safaris operate in the Olderkesi Conservancy (7608 acres) which is on the western edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve and to the south borders the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Olderkesi is an example of a Land Lease Model, this means that through a trust, and in conjunction with all the Masai families that have a claim to the land, an amount is agreed upon that exceeds that amount of revenue that could be made from the land by other means (such as farming, logging and settlement), at its most basic this is ‘renting land for wildlife’ in exchange for a fair price and an agreement that the land and the wildlife is protected.
Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) is responsible for the running of the conservancy in conjunction with the Olderkesi Wildlife Community Trust who look after the concerns of the stakeholders, the funds raised by the rental go towards supporting 6,000 land owners, on top of this Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust helps to create further opportunities and support for the local community.
I spoke to Calvin about the Cottar’s Wildlife and Conservation Trust as well as the current situation;
“Starting CWCT was initially just about how we could secure the wildlife and tourism around our camp for our own business survival, but as we developed methods that really work, we realized that some of these ideas have much much wider application elsewhere in Kenya and Africa (to be copied or replicated) and therefore what we are doing on Olderkesi has much more conservation relevance than its small size reflects.. the Theory of Change that we helped develop (www.iucn.org/flod) is key to getting landowners to make land use plans that include natural biodiversity, while the concept of paying leases and easements for natural biodiversity has yet to be applied across Africa as it has to great success in the developed world..well we are making this work here, showing how much more effective collective benefit and control is far more effective than the old punishment model for wildlife crime inherited from the colonial era. At Olderkesi, we are testing and refining new ‘out of the box’ conservation strategies for the future. “
One of the main goals of the CWCT is to protect the wildlife and habitat that make up the conservancy and act as a wildlife corridor between the Masai Mara and Serengeti. This is done by training and funding community rangers to deter poaching and protect the land from any encroachment.
The CWCT has also helped to construct the Olpalagilagi Primary School, starting with just one classroom and 40 students it is now educating around 400 pupils, the addition of funding school meals has also significantly increased the enrolment of girls into the school system.
“In early 2020, CWCT launched an important partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Cottar’s, AWF and the community share a vision for this landscape that embraces an integrated approach to conservation, supporting sustainable development of Olderkesi by enhancing conservation in a way that supports the local community.” African Wildlife Foundation Emergency Fund
All of Cottar’s Safari’s resources are now being tested and stretched and while the safari season continues to be pushed back by travel restrictions in place throughout Africa and Europe while we all deal with the consequences on ourselves and loved ones’ health and finances it is important to also remember the bigger picture from domestic to international need to support those that need it.
Conservation is taking a massive hit due to COVID-19, most of the funding for conservation efforts across Africa comes from tourism, with fees from every booking going towards national parks departments which fund crucial patrols, anti- poaching units, vets, and more. On top of this many tourism organisations support their own conservation efforts such as Cottars’ own Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust.
I asked Calvin how this pandemic is viewed by local people and how it may impact on their communities
“Maasai families live in very close proximity in small houses, and many have got pulmonary difficulties to do with breathing smoke from cooking fires all their lives; this presents very unique challenges – they literally do not have the space to self-isolate or to be physically separate from each family member. The maasai understanding of covid is limited, and they frankly can’t believe it could impact them so much – they are after all tough maasai (!) So all we as CWCT can do is educate them how serious it is, washing hands and promote the idea that as long as they can stay in family units in their houses, and limit interaction with traders and those from outside, and rely on their blood milk and meat from their livestock for their daily food/ survival, then they have a chance to come out relatively unscathed. We are working with the chiefs and leaders to pass this message on, to do food deliveries, and to help the leadership mobilized to keep the markets closed… “
Below are a few points from a CWCT and AWF statement. These numbers exclude the staff and their families that are directly dependent on Cottar’s Safari’s properties for an income.
“Fifty-eight (58) critical jobs are at risk, including those of 29 rangers, 9 teachers and multiple others responsible for the well-being of the community and wildlife alike. To ensure the continuation of this important work, CWCT has instituted a lean budget and will implement only the most vital activities. The CWCT management team has accepted a 25% cut in salary and Cottar’s 1920’s Camp has committed to funding 59% of these salaries. CWCT now needs to raise $200,000 to sustain livelihoods, conserve wildlife, manage wild lands and provide specific support to the Maasai community during the next 9 months. “
On average, every salary supports an additional 8 people, impacting the lives of an added 416 people.
- Ranger Salaries – 29 rangers, 5 site guards, 1 senior warden, 4 support staff
- Community Salaries – 9 teachers, 1 school cook, 1 community manager, 1 outreach officer, 1 community liaison officer
- COVID-19 awareness campaign. Maasai are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to widespread respiratory issues and cultural customs that include being in close proximity to one another. The first case of COVID-19 was identified in the Masai Mara on March 26, 2020. Our campaign will work with the local chiefs and clinics and communicate through mobile phone, important messages on COVID-19 mitigation messages in the Maa language as well as how to deal with the virus should it be contracted.
- Mobile Community illegal wildlife trade (IWT) awareness campaign.
- 68 school scholarships *Assuming COVID-19 doesn’t prevent school from resuming in May.
- School lunch for 600 children *Assuming COVID-19 doesn’t prevent school from resuming in May.
- Ongoing work in mitigating the illegal wildlife trade.
- General community support where needed.
When talking about figures it is not hard to see why conservation and tourism go hand in hand
“Unfortunately, 70% of this work was being funded directly by tourism and with the complete collapse of the industry, we are having to pare down costs and raise funds through emergency appeals to keep our work going. “
AWF put together a fantastic info sheet about the break down in costs from which the above details were taken, if anyone would like to see this please let me know and I can forward it on. Cottars and AWF are trying to raise awareness and funds to support their efforts, any donations can be made through the AWF website www.awf.org/cottars
It is for partners like these and the generations of hard work that has been done that we continue to encourage both postponement and making Africa the next place you visit, the more we can show support the more chance our beloved wild areas have of surviving as we remember them.