During our second week in Kenya, Alyvia, Christine and I decided to spend the weekend around Nairobi in order to get more acquainted with the city and all it had to offer. On a sunny Saturday decided to take a drive down to the south end of the city to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Centre run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was founded in 1977 in honour of the late David Sheldrick, who was the Warden of Tsavo East National Park. The organization is famous for its Orphanage Project, which rescues young elephants and rhinos that are in extreme danger for various reasons such as abandonment by their mother, drought, starvation or life-threatening injuries. Once the animals are rescued, they are transported to the Wildlife Trust in Nairobi National Park, where they undergo rehabilitation and release by skilled keepers, when they are ready for self-sufficiency in the wild (DSWT, 2019). Due to the sensitive nature of baby elephants and rhinos, public viewings are restricted to one hour per day. Along with hundreds of other tourists, we were thrilled to watch the baby elephants and one adorable baby rhino take their bath and feed.
After our visit to see the elephants, we were on our way to the African Fund for the Endangered Wildlife Giraffe Centre. We learned that the centre was established in 1979 as a reaction to the decrease of the Rothschild giraffe population, a subspecies found in East Africa, and now serves as an education centre to local children as well as international visitors. Since its inception, the centre has successfully bred and reintroduced the Rothschild species in different areas of Kenya, in addition to being one of the main tourist attractions in Nairobi (AFEWK, 2019). At the centre we joined many other international visitors and visited with the giraffes by feeding them. Some of us even “kissed” the giraffes.
After that weekend, I learned that wildlife tourism plays a large role in Kenya’s local and national economy. According to Udoto ( 2012), “Wildlife managed by Kenya Wildlife Service forms the backbone of the tourism industry since most visitors come first and foremost to view wildlife. The tourism sector is the second largest sector of Kenya’s economy, contributes around 10% of GDP, and has been identified as one of the economic growth areas that can contribute significantly in poverty alleviation due to its spatial variability within the country” (p. 53).
To someone such as myself who experienced a modest glimpse of wildlife tourism that weekend, it sparked my eagerness and excitement to go on a safari very soon. After some research, Alyvia, Christine and I decided that we would be going on a safari in the Maasai Mara. However, upon further investigation on this area, as a social work student I could not overlook the issues that the Indigenous Masai Mara people have encountered since colonization and the direct impact that wildlife tourism has had on this population presently.
The Maasai are an indigenous group that “originated from North-west Kenya. They began migrating south in the 15th century and arrived in the long trunk of land stretching across central Tanzania and Northern Kenya during the 17th and 18 century. The Maasai territory reached its most dominant size in the 19 century when they covered most of the Great Rift Valley and adjacent lands from Dodoma and Mount Marsabit” (Siyabona Africa, 2019). When the British began colonizing Kenya, the Maasai lost large portions of their land, and one can argue that this colonization is still occurring. In the early 1900s, British colonizers pushed the Maasai out of their traditional lands through Treaties, and more recently the Kenyan government privatized their lands, which further limited them to smaller parcels of land. This act by the government was executed in order to relocate the Masai out of the tourist wildlife areas which they once inhabited, and into lands outside the nature reserve that are not compatible or sufficient with their ways of subsistence (Narimatsu, n.d).
Colonialism is a worldwide phenomenon that has displaced and destroyed many communities globally. Reflecting on the issues faced in Kenya by Indigenous People such as the Maasai, displacement and land acquisition draws a familiar account of Indigenous issues back in Canada. Over the last month in Kenya, I have gained a higher awareness of the negative side of tourism in a developing country that is torn between cultural preservation and modernization. As Westerners, we may have a difficult time connecting tourism to colonialism, as our version of colonialism in Canada may appear different. However, another type colonialism is still occuring in Kenya, and that is neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism impacts Kenya, as the country’s economy is dependent external sources of revenue such as wildlife tourism. This dependency on tourism does benefit the economy, however the Indigenous Peoples that have lost their lands, and livelihoods have suffered. Moving forward I hope that those visiting Kenya from abroad take the time research the broader context of wildlife tourism, and advocate for responsible and ethical treatment of Indigenous People who are impacted.
African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya, Giraffe Centre.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 2019.
Narimatsu, J. n.d. Environmental Justice Case Study: Maasai Land Rights in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Maasai Tribe, East Africa. 2019. Siyabona Africa.
Udoto, P. 2012. Wildlife as a Lifeline to Kenya’s Economy: Making memorable Visitor Experiences. The George Wright Society. 29 (1): 51 – 58.