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Born Free Responsible Guiding Award, Kenya



First I must thank everyone who made this possible. It all began when our camp management called me in to the office and announced to me that I was one of the competitors in the 2011 Born Free Foundation-sponsored ‘Most Responsible Safari Guide in the Masai Mara’ competition, run by Tribal Voice Communications and the Mara Conservancy for all the camps in the Mara Triangle to identify and celebrate which guide was guiding most responsibly. Being the third year of the competition, our camp Manager King wished me all the best in the 2011 competition. Our entire Olonana management team, my fellow Olonana guides and our Mara Conservancy game rangers and my guests that I took on game drives, thank you all for being my mentors to be the first Olonana guide to bring the trophy to our little bush home that made everyone in camp to be proud to work for Olonana Camp. Thank you all.


Interesting, in the Mara Triangle all of our Guides are a challenge and the competition was fierce to win this award. The game rangers have worked hard to make sure that around all camps our guides are responsible, and being the third year of the competition it has got even tougher to win this award. We did not know when we would be assessed or who the assessors were as they just came on drives with us as ‘guests’. After the announcement that I was the winning guide I requested to visit Zambia for my prize of a training trip by May. Our office made all the required arrangements and documentation for my trip. Mr and Dr Mvula thank you so much for planning an excellent itinerary for me.

25th May 2012

This was the day I left for Zambia and again thank you so much to our head office for arranging all the transfers for me. My flight was at 8 AM but I had to be there at least two hours before the flight. Thanks Rosemary for checking me in online, it made everything easy for me. Kenya Airways was the airline I was flying with, super nice plane Boeing 737, 237 passengers were in the plane, flying via Harare in Zimbabwe, so a big plane but so fast! In a few minutes the pilot who was excellent showed us Mount Kilimanjaro {it was my first time to see}. We landed in Harare to pick up a few other passengers. I was happy to at least breathe air in Zimbabwe and we took off again after 50 minutes. Lunch was served in the plane in between Harare and Lusaka. One hour later we landed in Lusaka, a simple and very clean airport. I went straight to check in at the Domestic flight desk and everyone in the airport was so helpful. I noticed that they are one hour behind East Africa and Airtel is everywhere. I called our camp manager to tell him I arrived safely in Zambia.

Pro-flight Airways was the plane I took to Mfuwe international airport. We landed around 5 PM and was picked by a vehicle from Kafunta Lodge, to be picked by someone from Robin Pope Safaris [Kiki} the camp manager on route.

Robin Pope Safaris (RPS) Nkwali Camp

We arrived at camp at around 6 pm in the evening and was welcomed by staff and I went to bed early after dinner. Next morning I was transferred to RPS’s Luangwa River Camp and was given the best tent in the whole camp, excellent for honeymooners. VICTOR was the first RPS guide I shadowed, and we went for a morning drive and saw 8 lionesses just in the road next to Mfuwe Lodge. Back for lunch and then transferred back to Nkwali.


1. NKWALI CAMP [3 nights]



4.FLATDOGS CAMP [ 2 nights]

5. NORMANS CARR SAFARIS (Kapani, Kakuli and Mchenja) [5 nights]

6.Nsefu Secondary School [ taught them about East Africa and the Maasai history} [day visit]

7.Mfuwe Basic School [day visit]

8. Project Luangwa and South Luangwa Conservation Society [day visits]

9. ZAWA HEADQUARTERS [ Zambia Wildlife Authority ] [day visit]

10 .KAWAZA BASIC SCHOOL [day visit]



B. PUKU RIDGE [2 nights]



Run and managed by ZAWA this park is dominated by the Luangwa River, a large river almost over 150 meters across in many parts of it. It is a big park over 9,000 KMS. Along the river it is dominated by the MOPANE woodland and the BIRD PLUM.

It is very rich in wildlife – every game drive you almost guaranteed yourself a Leopard [almost every 2KM there is one along the river]. The lagoons are a big source of water for many birds, and the Lillian’s Lovebirds were among the over 400 species they have.

My first animal I saw was the Crawshay’s Zebras. They look almost like our Zebra in the Mara but they lack the Shadow stripes. There were many Elephants in the Park too. Densely populated by the Ebony trees it’s almost dustless in the park. ZAWA work very closely with the community and all the camps around in relation to the wildlife / human conflict issue.


I think most of the longest serving guides I have ever met are in Zambia, like ABRAM BANDA of Normans Carr Safaris was among them with over 22 years as a guide. He has won so many guiding awards and managing one of the walking safari camps was one of his happiest moments as a guide.

To be a guide in SLNP is a dream of almost everyone who works in any of the safari camps. It’s not easy to be a guide and even to be the best guide is even harder. Grading of guides is paramount and I think is a standard almost all over Zambia National parks. It’s well known to everyone that a series of several written exams and a tough practical are conducted before you can become a qualified guide.

1. Grade 1 Guide – Walking Guide  –  This is the top guiding position that everyone wishes to be one. Once you qualify as a Grade 1 guide you can do both Game drives and walking safaris.

2. Grade 2 Guide Game Drives Only This is the second best guiding position, you can only do game drives, BUT even after passing the exam you will be accompanied by a walking guide for 5 game drives to see how you do your game drives before you can take clients on your own.

3. Grade 3 GuideOnly Airport Transfers – This is a trainee guide position and most of the time he or she will join other guides on game drives and be trained and mentored by them.

All guides are in total control of every activity in the Park, that is game drives and walking safaris. It’s a taboo to do off road driving in Zambia, and anyone who will break any of the park rules will be reported by his fellow guides to the Zambia Wildlife Authority.  Respect among the guides is paramount and you must a team player here. Meetings are frequently held in any of the camps between the guides on the way forward to make their park the best of the best. I was lucky to attend one and saw how serious these guides are – they are looking at the future not the present.

Guides are the master of the bush they work in, and in Zambia they are so creative that even air can be a topic of interest when animals are not seen – the guide KANGA is an example of this from Robin Pope Safaris.

GARTH from Zebra Plains was among the top best walking safari guides I met. He taught us about the sensitive plant that retracts when you touch it [ MIMMOSA PIGRA].

Guiding ends when guests go to bed in Zambia, hosting in the evening is a must in all the camps that I visited. After the night drive a hot shower is always good, and you will then meet your guests in the evening around the camp fire, sharing the history of your camp, the community, the park, the country and the world at large are topics that will make the guest understand more that you could not talk about during game drives.

In all camps Sundowners are a must then extending to a night drive. In-house training is arranged annually for all the Guides in the Valley and exams are done after this training.

Luangwa River is the Eastern boundary of the park and in most of the camps that I stayed in a boat ride across to the Park was one of my favourite moments, smooth and safe giving me a chance to see an even closer – up view of an Avocet with eggs. Again your guide is trained even to explain the speed of the water and even the direction it flows.

I was so proud of the guides by not ever speeding – 40 Km/hr was the highest speed ever gone when I was in Zambia.


Zambia is divided into almost 72 tribes, all are Bantus. The Mfuwe area was dominated by the Kunda community, well known for a long time for eating game meat. This community has a clear ‘hunting’ history. I was very proud on the efforts the Government (ZAWA) and conservation bodies (South Luangwa Conservation Society) in pulling together to protect the wildlife.

  1. Project Luangwa and South Luangwa Conservation Society are the pride of everyone I met. Every camp has brochures for guests about these projects, they are well explained by every manager, every guide and all the staff in camp to all the guests  – it was clear to me that it’s everyone’s responsibility to make a positive change for the local community and to conserve wildlife. I visited Project Luangwa  and SLCS twice with guests and they are amazing. I have never seen so many confiscated snares in my life like this time. Each snare has a history of where it was found.  All the funds donated to these projects are used for anti-poaching activities and for building and improving schools in the area. Basic education on conservation is one activity they do around the community next to the park, on a weekly basis. Patrols in the park are done every day by SLCS with ZAWA rangers.

A lot of water projects are done around the area too, in schools, clinics, churches and many villages have a borehole. The water level is so low, and highest is 12M.

All camps have a uniform Environmental Day whereby they meet and pick a place to do a litter clean – up every two weeks, a very successful activity that everyone appreciated in the community.


You can only appreciate what you have when you see how much other people like it. Taking my Maasai outfit with me was the best idea. Cheryl told me to carry it. Everyone wanted to see a Maasai! I visited Kawaza Cultural Village and the school there too – the whole school was almost 1,250 kids and everyone stopped what they were doing and I was surrounded and could not even move one step. They called me AgaNga [a witch doctor]; they never thought I could speak any word in English!

They got very surprised that I could speak and even taught them the history of the Maasai, the Mara and how I ended up travelling to Zambia – funny that in this rural, remote school library they had a book for Born Free. The Village guide that Kiki appointed took me around almost every village around; it was a chance for everyone to meet a Maasai. I gave them a huge lecture about our History, 560 people attended the evening talk. The Kids were the most enjoyable ones.


Joseph Koyie

2011 Most Responsible Safari Guide Award Winner

Sanctuary Olonana Camp, Kenya


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Responsible Safari Guiding

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. 


Purpose: To interact with guides in Zambia in order to learn how they guide responsibly.

Duration: Two weeks.

Lodges/camps visited: 

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)

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Born Free Responsible Guiding Award – Kenya

Applications are now in for the Born Free Responsible Guiding Award 2009. The award is again sponsored by the international wildlife conservation charity, and long-term friend of Kenya, the Born Free Foundation, demonstrating this organisation’s continued commitment to wildlife conservation in the Masai Mara. We would also like to thank Robin Pope SafarisNorman Carr Safaris and Flatdogs Camp for hosting the winning guide during his trip to Zambia.

Launched last year, this prestigious award is the first of it’s kind in Kenya and is a collaboration between Tribal Voice Communications, who founded and organise the Award, and the Mara Conservancy. The Award aims to recognise and celebrate best practices in responsible safari guiding in the Mara Triangle.

The winning guide will receive an all expenses paid 2-week trip to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, a wildlife tourism destination internationally recognised for the quality of its safari guiding. Here the winner will have the unique opportunity to exchange knowledge with, and work alongside, some of Africa’s top safari guides.

This year’s competition is in three stages:

1. Nomination – All lodges and camps that conduct game drives in the Mara Conservancy are invited to nominate their most responsible resident safari guide, as measured against TVC’s Safari Guiding Checklist. Each lodge/camp is permitted to nominate one guide only by 12 noon 1st December 2009.

2. Short-listing of Finalists – The nominations will be reviewed by the Mara Conservancy, Tribal Voice Communications and the Born Free Foundation and a short-list of finalists selected. This stage will draw on the information supplied in the nomination forms and the Mara Conservancy’s Cheetah vehicle patrol records (anti-animal harassment unit).

3. Mystery Game Drives – The short-listed finalists will be assessed by two ‘Mystery Visitors’ during normal game drives (unbeknown to the guide) against the Safari Guiding Checklist. These ‘visitors’ are conservation / guiding professionals. The winner will be the guide who obtains the best average score across these two drives.

The Born Free Responsible Safari Guiding Award 2009 will be announced in early 2010.

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Responsible Safari Guiding Initiative – Masai Mara, Kenya

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.

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Masai Mara – Wildlife Decline

You might be interested to have a look at a BBC TV clip which has been published on BBC World about the recent ILRI report on declines in wildlife numbers in the Mara eco-system. The declines reported are extremely high and one of the reasons given is the conflict between wildlife and the local community (Maasai pastoralists) living on the borders of the park as they both compete for the same scarce resources. It also highlighted the success of the community wildlife conservancies at Ol Kinyei and Olare Orok within the same Mara eco-system in addressing this issue. All the wildlife footage was shot in these two conservancies and there is an interview with ole Tongoyo, one of the Maasai landowners at Ol Kinyei who is a ranger there.   

Gamewatcher Safaris are involved with the conservancies and are using their tourist camps there to generate income to pay for the management of the conservancies and to fund community projects in the area – projects that provide a ‘hand up’ to these Maasai communities rather than the unsustainable model so often witnessed in tourism areas of hand-outs and kind donors.

The Gamewatcher Safaris business model is one to take a look at as they are using the community wildlife conservancies to attract tourism business that not only allows them to achieve their own profit targets but also creates an income for conservation and improves local livelihoods. See for info on Gamewatcher Safaris.