Guests at Cottar’s Safaris in Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve can now help rehabilitate vultures, collar lions and shadow a tribal hunter-gatherer
If you’ve already spotted the ‘big five’ – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, African elephant and Cape buffalo – or want something more from a safari, Cottar’s Safaris has stepped up its game.
Established in 1919 in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, Cottar’s Safaris is now run by the fifth generation of the same family. Co-owner Louise Cottar says, ‘Luxury safaris and the big five game experience have become commonplace. We believe that travellers still value these, but that they also want to participate in a safari that provides values, purpose and impact. As such, we have spent the last year developing safari impact experiences that have a positive effect on travellers, the unique biodiversity that surrounds us and the local Maasai community.’
Here are five new experiences you can try…
In just 30 years, more than half of the vulture population of Kenya’s Maasai Mara has been decimated, seven of Africa’s 11 vulture species are on the edge of extinction and 90 per cent of reported vulture deaths in Africa are from poisoning or using their body parts for medicine.
But now you do your bit to help them by riding along with a researcher from Kenya Birds of Prey Trust (KBPOT) to identify nest sites. The researcher will log any nests you find and inspect droppings, discussing the vultures’ eating habits and how the species maintains the Maasai Mara’s ecosystem. You may also try to find previously tagged martial eagles.
The age-old conflict between the Maasai people and predators has resulted in its lion population declining by a third in the last two decades. The Mara Predator Project helps protect cheetahs, lions and leopards and enhances locals’ understanding of their role within the ecosystem.
On a half-day drive with a researcher, you’ll learn how to collect data about the predators, and if you see any, the researcher will talk through its social habits. When planned collaring takes place, you can also help the researcher dart a predator, keep it cool and help a vet put a collar on it and check it’s working. You will watch the vet administer an anti-tranquilliser drug then wait till the animal wakes up and walks off.
Maasai women weren’t traditionally involved in conservation but now you can shadow the Maasai Mara’s only all-female ranger unit, who, like male rangers, patrol the reserve and deal with potential poachers and illegal cattle grazers.
You’ll get hands-on experience as you take part in their daily activities, counting game and patrolling areas around water sources where poachers are most likely to place snares to trap animals. If you come across a snare you’ll help cut it and carry it back to Cottar’s Wildlife Conservation Trust headquarters.
You can also visit a village to help the trust distribute food to the Maasai community. You’ll be welcomed into locals’ houses and visit a school where you’ll interact with teachers and schoolchildren.
The Maasai use over 70% of local plants such as acacia trees for medicinal purposes. These plants are used to help with everything from boosting the Maasai’s immune system and treating colds and headaches to deworming goats and fattening cows.
Il Torobo is a disappearing tribe with a unique knowledge of the local flora’s medicinal values. You can accompany an Il Torobo hunter gatherer, Letilet, on a walk, during which you’ll have the chance to ask him questions about local biodiversity and help compile a list of plants and their uses.
The Cottar family has three places to stay in the Maasai Mara: Cottar’s Bush Villa, Cottar’s Conservation Camp and Cottar’s 1920s Camp, in the south east of the reserve. Stay at all three, plus a fourth camp, to experience the 1,500sq km reserve’s range of ecosystems, wildlife and culture. To minimise the risk of Covid-19, you will have the same guide, spotter, waiter and room steward at all four camps. On a longer trip you’ll also have time to listen to a researcher talk about a new project which involves reporting sightings of pangolins. For more information visit cottars.com
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