Mara Muddle

Mara Muddle

If the Mara conservancies don’t get their act together, visitors might be paying $400 in daily fees!

One of the world’s most fabulous wild reserve is really a very small area that’s being cut apart into even smaller pieces that are squabbling with one another.

In a worst case scenario that I just can’t imagine happening anywhere in the universe except in Kenya, a guest at the Mara’s eastern-most lodge, Keekorok, who wanted to spend the day exploring the whole reserve with a picnic lunch traveling as far as Serena Lodge in the west, would incur reserve fees of $400 per person!

Until last week the three main sections of the Mara reserve (Sekanini, the furthest east third; Musiara, the main central part; and the Mara Triangle, the area west of the Mara River), all respected each other’s fee receipts as adequate to entering their own area. This core area of the Mara is only about 590 sq. miles. It really is possible on a single long day’s game drive to go through the entire area, easily going in and out of all three parts.

The visitor never knew they were technically moving from one reserve into another or back, again. And surrounding the Mara are a number of private reserves acting similarly.

But last week the Mara Triangle indicated it may stop accepting Musiara and Sekanini fee receipts. That would mean if you crossed the Mara River, you’d have to pay, again. And oh by the way, the three Mara conservancies now charge the highest of any reserve in Africa: $80 per person per day.

The remaining two portions are now threatening to do the same in retaliation. If this happens and you were a traveler staying at Mara Serena Lodge (in the Triangle), traveling on the new road from Nairobi via Narok, you would have to pay $240 just to get to the lodge! To get to the lodge you have to drive through the other two parts of the sanctuary.

This is getting ridiculous. It was, in fact, ridiculous before now. The very idea that a small wilderness reserve would be cut into separately managed sections is absurd.

Each section charges and accounts for its own fees, of course, but also trains and deploys its own set of rangers, and tries to enforce its own sets of rules and regulations. It’s patently absurd, and the reason it’s this way is because the Maasai politicians always refused to allow the federal Kenyan government to manage the area.

So such important things as wildlife management, wildlife research, visitor management and the like are often different every ten miles as your drive through the reserve. There’s no coherent marketing or planning of any sort. Mara.com, Maasaimara.com and even Masaimara.org are all privately owned websites exploited by local Kenyan business interests!

When Richard Leakey was head of the wonderfully managed Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) he tried to force the Maasai to relinquish control of the reserves to KWS, as numerous other ethnic groups had done to produce such wonderfully managed reserves as Samburu and Tsavo. In response, someone bombed his plane while he was flying and he lost his legs.

So for years and years, the Amboseli and Mara (Maasai reserves) have been administered by their own (incredibly corrupt) county councils. And now, they are fighting among themselves!

Balloon safaris will have a particularly difficult time as the three parts bureaucratically separate. The balloons (of which there are now 16 rising daily in the Mara) pay a “launching and landing fee.” If they bump down in an area other than from which they launched, they’ll be double taxed.

Not to mention the intrepid traveler who is trying to follow the wildebeest migration. Imagine being stopped dead at some signpost and being told to go over there to where the million wildebeest are will cost you another $80!

It gets worse. As the steam of anger boils over, the three fiefdoms are considering a rule that is used to my great consternation in neighboring Tanzania. The “one-time entry rule” means that if you leave one reserve for another, you have to pay again to re-enter the first reserve.

That means wherever you’re lodging and paying the daily $80 per person fee, that if you go out, then come back, you have to pay twice that same day!

THAT MEANS if you transected the Mara on a good long day’s drive, you could theoretically have to pay $400 PER PERSON!

Why oh why is all of this happening?

Money.

Tourism is way down. The government and community institutions controlling these marvelous parcels of wilderness got used to a certain revenue stream that they don’t have, now. And frankly, I don’t think they’ll ever have, again.

But if there’s anything that will totally destroy the little that’s left, it’s this current nonsense going on in the Mara. Please, folks, let’s not discharge our responsibilities with the same acumen as a warthog!