Nina Bataller wrote this wonderful piece about her time at the Mara Naboisho Reserve in Kenya, where she volunteered with our research and conservation project. The entry below is part of this past month's Mara Naboisho Monthly, a collection of news, blogs and photographs from this incredible program. I’m sitting at the communal breakfast table in our volunteer camp in the northern part of the Mara region of Kenya. There’s a red and blue wool plaid Maasai warrior blanket under my laptop as a table cloth. The high ceilinged timber and concrete building has large window openings, thick walls, but no screens or glass in the windows. It’s cool here in the shade and very comfortable and bright. A lion has killed a wildebeest early this morning, about 15 yards from our latrine. I’ve come during the dry season and haven’t seen rain in the 2 weeks since I’ve arrived. Today, there are 6 volunteers in our camp, and three university educated, English speaking conservation staff, in addition to the cook, a driver and 2 lovely local Kenyan women who clean and do laundry, one of them happily singing quietly to herself all the while.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed on as a volunteer with African Impact’s Mara Naboisho Volunteer Project, but it’s more than surpassed any idea of what I might experience. Each day has offered one fun and exciting adventure after another. I came here for several reasons. I was hoping to see the animals of the Mara, without the huge prices and the crowds of tourists that seem to be everywhere in the Mara area during the summer migration. As publisher of Your Photo Authority magazine, I was also looking for a voluntourism project to recommend to my readers that would offer plenty of great photo opportunities. I found all that and more. The opportunity to work close up and virtually hands on with the animals in a small friendly, close knit group of volunteers, has been an ideal trip for me. Perhaps volunteering attracts a nicer kind of person to begin with. Or perhaps it’s the friendly, enthusiastic staff who answer every question thoroughly and patiently, all the while excitedly pointing out the animals and birds, long before my eyes realize what I’m looking at, that make the place so special.
As both new and returning volunteers from all over the world, arrive each Monday, they are quickly introduced to the wonders of the local flora and fauna. Animals and birds are everywhere you look and the topography is varied and stunningly beautiful at every turn. The list of animals I saw my first day is way too long to list here, but I will say that I saw many elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, birds, a pride of lions and a leopard, all within 24 hours of my arrival. Each of them so close that I held my breath, afraid that the clicking of my camera would disturb them. A volunteer’s work here is important in many ways. The wildlife counts we do several times a week monitor the ebb and flow of the animals that move within the Mara Naboisho Conservancy. Elephant identification work, big cat monitoring for both conservation management and for helping the resident tourist camps locate them for their tourists, and the physical work we do for the local schools (this morning was spent painting the outside of the Naboisho Primary school) while supporting the guiding school with both support and money, are all equally valuable it seems. The thing I love the best is that 500 of the local Masai landowners have banded together to preserve their homeland from being bought up and developed by outsiders. They lease the 200 km2 Mara Naboisho Conservancy, to a small group of select tented camps, in return for monthly rents, paid individually to the land owners, while still retaining the right to graze their cattle on the vast plains.
Locally owned Koiyaki Guiding School, located in the heart of Mara Naboisho Conservancy, owns their portion of land. There they train local Maasai to become tourism guides. Teaching them how to not only recognize and treat the local animals and plant life, but perhaps more importantly, how to deal with the varied needs of tourists from all over the globe. It seems a perfect compliment. Researchers, conservationists, volunteers, students and tourists all sharing in the preservation of a way of life, where everyone benefits. I can’t wait to come back. We're passionate about protecting African wildlife all over the continent, and our volunteers spend countless hours on game reserves collecting valuable data, completing conservation tasks and teaching about conservation in community schools. You can be a part of all this positive change, too!