Global Politics

A new focus for safari tourism

I have two degrees in anthropology, so when I travel I want more to learn about people and cultures than, say, to photograph a napping lion. Game Safaris are still the big attraction in Kenya, but I was pleased to discover it's no longer just about seeing the animals, it's also about people and helping.

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�Perhaps more adventurous tourism understanding culture, understanding the people, spending more time in a village rather than on a game drive�

Mark Silman is the manager at Tribe hotel, the newest in the capital Nairobi. As he says, safaris aren't just about seeing the big-5 game animals. A major theme in safaris now is: people, culture. So, I decided to go on one.

Unlike my Virgin flight into Kenya, the plane out of Nairobi to the Maasai Mara was, well�less of a Virgin: the old Safari-Link prop-plane was small enough that I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat�way fun. The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille is one of the newest Safaris in Kenya.

Instead of going on a game drive, I was taken to the nearby primary school, one of five that my safari fee supports. I asked the school's headmaster Joseph Njenga how the tourist dollar helps,

Joseph Njenga: �Without their help, the problems can be so many. The people here normally rely on livestock and in the previous year we didn't have enough rainfall. A parent has maybe 2 cows and he or she depends on these 2 cows for fees, feeding the families, so without their help, the place could have been bad�.

Early African Safaris were all about how many animals you could kill, think Hemingway, now it's about how many animals you can save.

Barry White: �Second largest land mammal about to become extinct, this species of Northern White Rhino�

Rhino Porini is a luxury tented camp run by the eco-company Gamewatchers, and tourists staying here help to pay for the care of 4 of the last 8 known northern white rhinos to exist in the world. Barry White, no connection, shows me what looks like giant breathing boulders snuggled up to each other, mother and daughter

Barry White: �The daughter is fatu, fatu means hope. She was born in the millennium year and she's the last captive-born Northern White Rhino. These rhinos probably have no idea what they represent, the last of their species, or the last opportunity to breed�.

�I am Wilson Olingetti, one of the spotter guides at Amboseli Porini�

Amboseli Porini,a low-impact tented camp near the Southern end of the Mara, was the first to use a pay-to-conserve model by leasing 13,000 acres of land from the Maasai community. With no cattle, vegetation previously over-grazed returned, as did Elephants after a 20 year absence.

Wilson Olingetti: �Lions are now getting used to the conservation area, cheetahs as well because they now know they are getting protected�.

Whether the cheetahs realize what's going on or not, the income generated from guests pays for staff salaries, area rangers, and overall maintenance of the conservancy.

Wilson Olingetti: �The reason it was created is to try to uplift the lives of the locals, raise the standard to a non-poverty community�.

The modern safari is still about seeing big game, and sure, I saw elephants, rhinos, lions�and lots of insects. But I also saw people working hard to preserve their culture and land by working with tourists. I can't say whether my fellow camera-toting travelers and I are always doing good works, but the modern safari is designed to appreciate that we're all one tribe living on the same fragile planet.