Below is a really inciteful report on how to make safari guiding in Kenya’s Masai Mara more responsible written by the 2010 winner of the Mara Conservancy Most Responsible Safari Guiding competition, Charity Cheruiyot.
Charity guides at &Beyond’s Bateleur Camp and is the first female to win this prestigious annual award, which was founded and is organised by Responsible Tourism consultancy Tribal Voice Communications in collaboration with the Mara Conservancy and sponsored by the Born Free Foundation.
In the report below, Charity summarises her training trip to Zambia’s Luangwa Valley (her prize for winning the competition) and reflects on how the lessons learnt from shadowing some of Zambia’s top safari guides can be used to improve guiding standards back home in Kenya’s Masai Mara.
REPORT FROM TRAINING TRIP TO SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK- ZAMBIA
Purpose: To interact with guides in Zambia in order to learn how they guide responsibly.
Duration: Two weeks.
2nd-7th October Kapani lodge and Nsolo bush camp (Norman Carr Safaris)
7th-11th October Flatdogs camp
11th-16th October Tena Tena and Nsefu bush camp (Robin Pope Safaris)
Sponsors: Born Free Foundation, Tribal Voice Communications, Mara Conservancy.
I would like to thank all my sponsors for enabling me to travel to Zambia for my guiding award. Many thanks goes to Born Free Foundation and Tribal Voice Communications for the work they are doing to ensure we conserve the Masai Mara. Mara Conservancy have worked hard to ensure the ecosystem is protected and all guides are giving their best in terms of responsible game viewing and finally all the lodges that hosted me in South Luangwa, it was an amazing experience I will never forget.
Guiding is a profession that has changed with time. The type of guiding experience ten years ago is different from what our guests want to experience today. Guests expect a guide who is knowledgeable and who is sensitive to both the environment and the animals. Guests expect to get value for their money without interfering with animals or their surroundings; therefore there is a need to promote responsible guiding in Africa and in the whole world. We all believe that without any conservation in the Mara we might not have the Mara as we know it in the near future, therefore I do support the Mara Conservancy in all their efforts to bring positive change in this ever changing field.
The overall experience was an eye opener, I got to see and experience how guiding is done in Zambia and at the end it was amazing. I learnt a lot and felt how beautiful it was to be on a game drive without seeing other vehicles, and it was like having an exclusive park to ourselves. This is one thing the guides in the Mara need to do; try and explore some areas which are not normally visited, an example would be to head out towards the Tanzania border more often.
The following are some of the guides I went on drives with:- Levi Banda, Charles, from Norman Carr Safaris, also from the same company was Shaddy who was very excellent in walking safaris, this is where I got to see wild dogs on foot and it was a great experience. Jabez, Robbie and JJ from Flatdogs camp proved to be excellent guides. From Robin Pope Safaris were Julius and Daudi. I got an opportunity to chat with Abraham Banda who was voted one of the best safari guides worldwide and he had just returned from the UK where he attended the award ceremony at the RGS.
The important things I noted from the above guides were their level of professionalism, they were sensitive to the environment and animals, no off road driving is allowed in the park and no crowding of animals, only three vehicles at any sighting, every guide did or observed the rules with or without the presence of the scouts “park rangers” because every guide knows what is expected from him/her. In their drives they included many small things like birds, insects, flowers or trees.
Points to note:
i. There is no off road driving allowed in the South Luangwa National Park because of the fragile ecosystem, every guide or any person driving in the park understands this.
ii. In every sighting only three vehicles are allowed, guests are briefed about this rule, the first vehicle to get to the sighting is the first to get out, additional vehicles wait at a distance.
iii. No radio communication is allowed, only used to get in touch with the lodges. Any guide passing animal sightings over a radio is punished. Use of radio is believed to lead to rushing from one sighting to the other.
iv. The guides in Zambia have role models to emulate.
v. No scouts or rangers in the park at all times.
vi. There is good communication between the scouts and the guides.
vii. There is a way of disciplining the guides who break the rules, first and second time they pay a fine and the third time the guide is expelled from the park, both the lodges and camps also agree on this rule.
viii. There are less self drives in the park.
ix. Roads are properly maintained and during the rainy season some parts of the park are closed and this is communicated to the guides through memo.
x. The guiding body in Zambia is trying to form a body that is responsible to oversee guiding activities. The other important thing that this body will do is to introduce a pass or license given to all guides working in Zambian parks, the pass will be taken away from any guide that keeps breaking the rules and without this pass he or she is not allowed to drive in any other Zambian park.
xi. During the low season they conduct refresher courses for guides who are available, all the guides interact and bring different ideas and try to work out solutions for any problem.
Problems encountered in the mara:
i. There is too much traffic in the Mara which leads to crowding the animals, the rule of only five vehicles need to be followed all the time.
ii. Many self drives getting to Mara might not be familiar with the rules.
iii. The problem of going off road either to view animals or to get somewhere, I believe this is the biggest problem at the moment.
iv. Use of radio is being misused by many guides. Driving with the radio on all the time is a big nuisance to most of the guests.
v. Communication between rangers and the guides need to be worked out.
vi. No meetings between park rangers and the residents guides in the Mara.
vii. Some times the park rangers close some roads without informing the guides and when guides are found driving in such roads, it causes a lot of friction between the parties.
i. The big problem[s] is [are] going off road and crowding of animals.
ii. The Mara Conservancy has been working hard to ensure guides adhere to the rules but they should continue being strict and with time we will notice the difference, guides will notice that the Conservancy is not relenting and they will have no option but to follow the rules.
iii. The self drives in the Mara should either be forced to read the rules or be given a guide to be with them on their drives.
iv. Use of radio should be monitored.
v. The communication between the rangers and the resident guides should be improved; we should see one another as a brother or sister and not one who is an offender or one who is ready to point out our mistakes.
vi. I recommend we try to hold meetings perhaps once a month to see where the problem is and how to solve it. It is the responsibility of all the lodges or camps and the Conservancy to work out ways of uniting all people working in the park.
vii. When there is important information or something the Conservancy wants to do either closing particular roads or doing anti poaching they should send a memo to all resident guides and some of us are willing to assist, this one we can build our working relationship with other guides or rangers.
viii. Before first drive guides should brief their guests about the park rules and explain to them clearly, guests would appreciate if they are briefed about conservation issues of the Mara. When a guide breaks the rules, the park ranger should approach the guide in a polite manner and explain to both the guests and the guide of the mistake that has been done. When the guests understand the rules the guide will be careful next time not to get him or herself in the same mistake again.
- Maasai Mara is a well known destination; every guest would like to visit it once in their life time.
- We should appreciate having such a beautiful place by conserving it for future generations.
- We should have a passion that drives us to keep it in its natural state.
- Every guide or ranger should be responsible for what they do or the choices they make when they are doing their drives, you might decide to get close to an animal today and tomorrow you fail to see the same animal because of your actions, what we should remember is that what we do today, either good or bad will come to follow us tomorrow.
- We should leave the Mara a better place than what we found it. I do believe we can and will make this place a favorable destination to visit if we all work together as a team.
- We should be encouraged to know that any big achievement we see today started with a small step, what the Conservancy is doing is a great job they deserve a pat on the back, it might look difficult but one day we will look back and be grateful for having taken that step.
Report complied by Charity Cheruiyot (Nov 2010)