Mara conservancies secure a lifeline

AfricaPress-Kenya: A rescue fund has been established to provide a lifeline to wildlife conservancies in the greater Maasai Mara that are reeling from massive financial losses caused by a slump in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Maasai Mara Rescue Fund, set up by nonprofit Conservation International in partnership with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association, will secure short-to-medium term loans to help cover lease payments owed by the conservancies to landowners and support their long-term sustainability.

The conservancies operate on land owned by the indigenous Maasai people, who lease it to them for tourism operations, which in turn fund conservation efforts that drive wildlife tourism. The loss of lease income due to the halt in tourism could force the Maasai landowners to sell or convert their lands to farming, putting wildlife conservation in the region at risk.

In 2019, Maasai landowners collected more than $7.5 million in lease payments; this year they are expecting less than half that sum.

“The fallout in tourism due to the pandemic means communities are struggling to survive. These lease payments will help ensure the lands that make up the greater Maasai Mara remain wild, and that the communities that count on income from tourism are supported during this global crisis,” said Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, senior vice president of the Africa Field Division at Conservation International.

“Over the last two decades, local communities and tourism investors have worked to find a way that nature and people can thrive together.  Our conservancies both secure critical wildlife populations and benefit local people. This is what successful conservation looks like,” said Daniel Ole Sopia, chief executive officer of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association. “COVID-19 has put this model at risk. This innovative fund will help us withstand this shock, and better prepare for future ones – it will help us, our hard work, survive.”

The loans will be repaid out of future tourism returns and conservation fees that the conservancies collect from tourism operators. As a condition of the loan, the conservancies will be required to implement governance, operational and financial strengthening activities to ensure the long-term sustainability of the conservancy model.

“Most immediately, the funding will provide a bridge of support for conservancies — and the communities that rely on them for income — that face global challenges outside of their control,” said Agustin Silvani, global head of conservation finance at Conservation International. “This is what impact finance should be all about, putting the needs of partners first. As tourism returns, revenues are expected to be available to pay back the Maasai Mara Rescue Fund, although Conversation International anticipates structuring loan terms to provide enough flexibility to weather downturns and ensure the long term stability of the conservancies. We want the Mara to remain a thriving place for generations to come.”

Other partners of the fund include Maliasili, an  NGO that is working with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association to strengthen its organizational capacity, and the BAND Foundation, which, along with other private donors, is providing philanthropic funding to support conservancy rangers and other core operational functions. Conservation International Ventures Conservation International’s impact investing arm is also contributing to the fund.

Home to 25 per cent of Kenya’s wildlife and host of the greatest annual migration of animals on Earth, the Greater Mara ecosystem is one of the most important conservation areas in Africa.

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