Maasai women make a mark in wildlife conservation

The Narok County is renowned for spectacular wildebeest migration from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Maasai Mara. The rare spectacle has been touted as the 8th wonder of the world and each year thousands of tourists fly into the country to witness this exodus of animals.

Each year, the County earns Sh.10billion from tourism which translates to 60 percent of the total revenue. The Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the over 16 conservancies in the region brings in the bulk of this revenue.

The world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve, which is a gem in the area, is one of the major tourist sites in the country, attracting thousands of local and international tourists every year.

Over 300,000 people tours the conservancy each year bringing in the much needed revenue, though the county has the potential to attract even more than a million visitors each year.

There are over 160 conservancies in the country with 16 of them within the Maasai Mara conservation area. These conservancies are meant to protect wildlife housed outside national parks, game reserves or on private parcels of land.

Two weeks ago during the International Womens Day celebrations held at Aitong area in Narok South, the Nature Conservancy, a Non-governmental organization (NGO) fA�ted several women in the Maasai Mara conservancies for playing a leading role in wildlife protection.

The NGO is currently working with numerous conservancies in the country, including the 16 found in the Maasai Mara conservancy area.

All the conservancies fall under one umbrella body; the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) which is charged with ensuring that wildlife is preserved.

One of the women honoured during the event was Peninah Taki, the chairperson of the Maasai Mara Conservancies Women Conservation Forum (MMCWCF) which consists about 140 women groups in the area.

Taki says their association has brought together women and given them a say in conservation matters, adding that this has helped them have a voice in various issues, including selling and sub division of land in the area.

We used to wake up only to find our fathers, brothers and husbands have sold off the family land or demarcated it without consulting women who are major stake holders in issues land and wildlife, she said.

According to Taki, allowing women to sit on various conservation management committees in the county has helped to ease tension in families

This is because their input is incorporated in decisions made about conservation of wildlife and land, in a community where women are traditionally not allowed to sit with men during decision making processes, she explained.

In an interview with KNA, the chairperson said the forum aims at sensitizing and empowering Maasai women to take part in wildlife conservation.

We live and depend on wildlife in this county and it’s only fair that women are involved in their conservation as women bear the brunt of the human-wildlife conflicts, she said.

But how did Taki start getting involved in issues of conservation of wildlife and environment?

The mother of three says her passion for conservation and involvement with women began when she was a child after she witnessed her father selling part of the family land without consulting the family.

In Maasai culture, men make all the important decisions, but with our organization, we have managed to sensitize women and men that it’s important to involve all stakeholders in decisions that affect them, she added.

Taki laments that land in Maasai Mara conservancy area is being subdivided at a very high rate which will soon affect the future of wildlife in the area, adding that her organization was talking to men to stop the trend.

The situation is further aggravated by the fact that many ranches are being subdivided with families choosing to fence off their portions thus affecting the wildlife migratory corridors.

Part of the reason could be that the people are no longer seeing the benefit of the wildlife but we want to change this so that locals can preserve them for posterity and so that they do not become extinct, she said.

Taki says through the organization, they are also sensitizing the Maa community to abandon the deep rooted cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages that hindered the girls from pursuing education.

According to statistics, Narok is one of the counties in the country with the highest number of girls dropping out of school due to early pregnancies.

This is a practice that affects girls’ schooling and limits their capacity to reach their potential. Girls enrollment in the lower primary in the county is often high but as they progress, many drop out after undergoing FGM, she said.

The Director of Nature Conservancy, Munira Bashir who presided over the womens day in the County urged women to take a leading role in conservation of wildlife and nature.

Bashir said women in conservation areas have always borne the brunt of the human �wildlife conflict and hence need for them to be on the forefront in matters conservation.

We want to ensure that communities appreciate wildlife from the areas they live in and reap benefits from it, she said.

The Director said her organization has engaged in training women in various trades and conservation measures while linking them to potential market as a way of empowering them.

Bashir termed involvement of women in wildlife conservation a positive step in the county and the country at large as they are the worst affected by wildlife.

Source: Kenya News Agency