Tribal Voice’s Manny and Cheryl Mvula are currently in Kenya working on safari guiding and poverty alleviation initiatives. Over the last 2 days we have delivered two guide training workshops in the Masai Mara aimed at improving the safari guides’ game viewing etiquette. This is the second such training event that we have undertaken in the Mara to capture some of those guides that missed out on the previous popular training that we conducted last year with 50 resident Mara Triangle guides and 50 from private operators at Kenya Wildlife Service’s HQ in Nairobi. There are several irresponsible guiding practices in Kenya that are impacting negatively on wildlife, habitat and the communities that live in wildlife areas. Key issues and areas of concern include the crowding of wildlife, approaching too close, off-road driving, the relentless pursuing of animals displaying avoidance tactics and indeed, sadly, an infectious tendency of over-dependency by guides on the Big 5 and the resultant use of radios to communicate such sightings, all in the name of tourism and to give clients a good time.
The use of radios on drives has shown to be one of the main reasons propagating the lack of initiative and use of guiding skills in some guides. This in some situations has resulted in congestion at sightings hence attracting the attention of the Mara Conservancy’s Anti-Harassment Unit’s Cheetah 1, 2 & 3 vehicles sometimes ending up in friction and a unprecedented build up of tension between the Mara Conservancy and some of the guides. Impacts resulting from this behaviour are a decline in key wildlife species, including lion and cheetah, as their natural feeding and breeding behaviour is being severely disturbed. The conservancy however report that there has been a significant change in attitude of guides in the triangle at cat sightings where whether in the presence of Cheetah patrol vehicles or not have maintained the minimum approach distances and vehicle numbers at a sighting. This in itself is a great sign In Amboseli, for example, cheetahs are finding it increasingly difficult to hunt during the day due to the numbers of tour operator and lodge vehicles crowding them, at times up to 30 vehicles at a sighting. This has led to a decline in cheetah numbers. In Tsavo National Park, most lion cubs starve to death as tourist vehicles are disturbing their parents’ breeding and ambush hunting strategies.
Tribal Voice worked in collaboration with the Mara Conservancy in delivering this year’s workshops, which shared with 40 guides in the Mara Triangle photographs of tourist vehicles carrying out these irresponsible practices and discussing with them the reasons why. Reasons given by the drivers were the belief that tracking down the big cats meant bigger tips from tourists, the fact that there are many untrained guides operating in Kenya as there is no compulsory safari guiding qualification that guides need to have to take tourists on game drives in Kenya’s protected areas, ‘client pressure’ to find them cats, irresponsible marketing by some tour operators whose brochures show vehicles very close to animals or that guarantee Big 5 sightings, lack of management support when they behave responsibly and turn down client requests to move ever closer to animals and then client’s complaining that they couldn’t get the photograph they wanted, and finally a lack of control by the drivers themselves of the game drives.
The workshops equipped the guides with knowledge of how to bring the smaller things in the bush to life thereby reducing their dependency on the Big 5, how to conduct effective client briefings so that they set the game drive up in a responsible way from the very start thereby helping clients have realistic expectations of their safari and hence reducing the pressure on them to deliver what they can only do in an irresponsible fashion, and finally gave the guides a checklist to enable them to self-assess their own performance in relation to conducting responsible game drives and hence take responsibility for their own self-development in this area.
The first workshop held at &Beyond’s Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp was very well attended and supported by &Beyond and Mpata Safari Club guides reflecting these companies’ commitment to Responsible Tourism. The second workshop held at Mara Serena Hotel got off to a very shaky start with few guides from Serena turning up for the training. Tribal Voice and the Mara Conservancy hence rallied the management of Serena and urged them to take their responsibility to support such guide training events seriously and hence after a later than planned start to the workshop, and a very late finish, 9 guides from the lodge successfully completed their training.
A key outcome of the workshops was that the guides and lodges in attendance agreed (some reluctantly!) that the use of radios to announce to all and sundry big cat and rhino sightings was the one issue that was responsible for many of the problems in the Mara. The new Senior Warden hence agreed that a new park rule would be introduced banning the use of radios in the park except for in emergency situations. So a very rewarding 2 days!
For further information on TVC’s Kenya responsible guiding initiative click here.