Growing up as a Maasai herder on the Lemek group ranch, Dickson Kaelo frequently encountered big cats. But when we meet a cheetah on a drive into the Maasai Mara’s Kicheche Bush Camp, he reacts as if seeing the slender creature for the very first time.
His surprise is justified.
When he helped found the Olare Orok (now Olare Motorogi) Conservancy in 2006, this land on the fringes of the National Reserve was over-grazed and devoid of native species. Now it’s one of Africa’s top safari destinations, with professional photographers and returning tourists applauding the wildlife sightings.
“In the past, elders would talk about how the presence of wildlife was an indicator of how well they were taking care of the land,” recalls Kaelo, now based in Nairobi as CEO of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association. “They accepted the consequences of living with nature.”
“Problems were to do with people managing the Reserve or poachers harassing community members. Any conflict was highly correlated to what people felt about fairness; if tourism is contributing to their lives they are able to co-exist.”
“At moderate human population density, you had the highest biodiversity – both in richness and abundance,” he says, explaining how cattle grazing manages grasslands for different species and prevents outbreak of wildfires. “It corroborated what I’d always observed.”
Former safari operator Ron Beaton, who still has a cottage on the borders of OMC, was a familiar face for Kaelo since childhood. On the eve of his retirement, the pair began discussing improved methods for including local people in tourism.
Dickson Kaelo grew up as a Maasai herder
Plans were also cemented for Olare Orok, one of the first conservancies in the Mara, enabling local landowners to receive income per acre leased to tourism camps. Using his skills of negotiation, Kaelo earned the trust of resident Maasai and gave them renewed hope for the future.
“The elders would look at the grass and say: ‘This is how it looked in the 1960s’,” he recalls. “It helped them reconnect with nature, and some herders started to wear the shuka again. People felt a sense of pride in their institution.”
Gently spoken Kaelo now offers support to local communities and helps to implement appropriate policies at government level, with a view to creating a network of conservancies across Kenya.
“Historically, we all lived together. We’re really just taking things back to the way they existed in the past.”
About the TUSK Awards
An African safari sets the stage for some of the greatest wildlife shows on earth, but protecting the headline acts is an ongoing challenge, with habitat loss, community conflict and poaching on the rise.
Supported by royal patron the Duke of Cambridge, the Tusk Conservation Awards, in partnership with Investec Asset Management, aims to give exposure to projects and individuals dedicated to fighting the cause.
Three pioneering Africans are in line for The Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, sponsored by Land Rover, which offers an overall prize of £20,000 and runners-up grants of £7,500 each. All hail from tourism destinations, and their work has played a significant role in conserving endangered environments and species.
he Duke of Cambridge is TUSK’s royal patron
A winner will be announced at the awards ceremony in London on November 8, where The Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa – a lifetime achievement award sponsored by Investec Asset Management, will also be awarded, with a grant of £40,000.
Prince William, who will be attending the event, takes a keen interest in the judging process but doesn’t know who’s won until the night.
“He loves the fact it’s a surprise for him too,” says Tusk CEO Charlie Mayhew.