Maasai Mara – Land Privatization and Wildlife Decline: Can Conservation Pay Its Way?

  • D. Michael Thompson
  • Suzanne Serneels
  • Dickson Ole Kaelo
  • Pippa Chenevix Trench
Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE, volume 5)

3.1 Introduction

The rangelands around the Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) provIDe an important example of the ways in which land use and land ownership are changing rapIDly in Kenya Maasailand, particularly in areas of higher agricultural and economic potential. Privatization of once-communal rangelands and subsequent subdivision into indivIDually owned plots are far advanced. Land privatization has potentially major impacts on wildlife conservation, as fencing and land-use intensification reduce availability of land for the formerly free-ranging wildlife-livestock mix. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of game viewing enterprises and tourist camps on sites throughout the Mara rangelands, particularly in areas close to the MMNR.

Data from surveys undertaken in 1998–2000 and in 2004 are used here to describe the livelihood strategies characterizing the Mara, and to document the pattern, scale and extent of diversification. The two sets of surveys allow us to look at...


Livelihood Strategy Wildlife Conservation Wheat Cultivation Livestock Holding Petty Trade 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are grateful to the Government of Kenya for giving us permission to undertake this research, and to the communities who hosted us for their participation in the work. Michael Thompson developed the surveys, trained interviewers and collected the great majority of quantitative data. Suzy Serneels planned and carried out the first rounds of cluster analysis and regression. Michael and Suzy wrote the first draft and moderated subsequent drafts. Pippa Trench carried out re-analysis for both cluster and regression analyses, and rewrote successive drafts. Dickson Ole Kaelo contributed preliminary field work, family portraits, some survey data, and provIDed a large amount of the historical context to the conservation divIDends section. The 1998– 2000 surveys were funded by DFID contracts R6828, R7638 and EU Contract ERBIC18*CT 960070. Numerous colleagues have helped with the development of these IDeas. We thank them all.


  1. ACC (African Conservation Centre), 2001, Draft Natural Resources Management Plan for Koyiaki Wildlife Association and Olchoro—Oiroua Wildlife Trust, African Conservation Center, Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  2. Bekure, S., de Leeuw, P.N., Grandin, B.E., Neate, P.J.H., 1991 , Maasai Herding. An Analysis of the Livestock Production System of Maasai Pastoralists in Eastern Kajiado District, Kenya International Livestock Centre for Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  3. Campbell, D.J., 1993, Land as Ours: Land as Mine: Economic, political and ecological marginali-sation in Kajiado District, in Being Maasai , Edited by Spear, T. and Waller, R., James Currey Press, London.Google Scholar
  4. Coast, E. 2001 Demography of the Maasai Unpublished PhD Thesis , Department of Anthropology, University College London.Google Scholar
  5. Daily Nation, 2000a, April 10, Death and funeral announcement, p. 23.Google Scholar
  6. Daily Nation, 2000b, December 31, Maasai Mara group ranches conservation association, advertisement, p. 15.Google Scholar
  7. Douglas-Hamilton, I. 1988, IDentification Study for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Natural Resources in the Kenyan Portion of the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem, Report to European Development Fund of the European Economic Community I. Douglas Hamilton & Associates, Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  8. Galaty, J.G., 1981 Land and livestock amongst Kenyan Maasai. Journal of Asian and African Studies 16(1–2) 68–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Galaty J.G. 1992 , This land is yours. Social and economic factors in the privatisation, sub-division and sale of Maasai ranches . Nomadic Peoples 30 26–40.Google Scholar
  10. Galaty, J.G., 1999, Grounding pastoralists: Law, politics and dispossession in East Africa. Nomadic Peoples 3(2) 56–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gereta, E., Wolanski, E., and Chiombola, E., 2003, Assessment of the Environmental, Social and Economic Impacts on the Serengeti Ecosystem of the Developments in the Mara River Catchment in Kenya . Tanzania National Parks and Frankfurt Zoological Societry.Google Scholar
  12. Grandin, B., 1986, Land tenure, subdivision and resIDential change on a Maasai group Ranch. Development Anthropology Network . Bulletin of the Institute for Development Anthropology 4(2) 9–13.Google Scholar
  13. Homewood, K., 1992, Development and the ecology of Maasai food and nutrition. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 29 61–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Homewood, K., Coast E., and Thompson M., 2004, In-migration and exclusion in East African rangelands: Access, tenure and conflict . Africa 74(4) 567–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kivelia, J. 2005, Cultivation Trends in the Buffer Zones of East African Rangeland Protected Areas: The Case of Ngorongoro and Loliondo, Tanzania Unpublished PhD Thesis University of London.Google Scholar
  16. Lamprey, R.H., and ReID R.S., 2004. Expansion of human settlement in Kenya's Maasai Mara: What future for pastoralism and wildlife? Journal of Biogeography 31(6) 997–1032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mortimore, M., 2005, Social resilience in African dryland livelihoods: deriving lessons for policy in Beyond territory and scarcity: Exploring conflicts over natural resource management. Edited by Gausset, Q., Whyte, M.A., and Birch-Thomsen, T., Stockholm: Elanders Gotab.Google Scholar
  18. Mortimore, M., 2005, Dryland development: Success stories from West Africa. Environment (Washington DC) 47(1) 8–21.Google Scholar
  19. Narok Land Registry , 2000, Land allocation records section — Register of plot owners.Google Scholar
  20. Norton-Griffiths, M., 1995, Economic incentives to develop the rangelands of the Serengeti: Implications for wildlife conservation, in Serengeti II, Dynamics, Management and Conservation of an Ecosystem ( Chap. 27 ), Edited by Sinclair, A.R.E. and Arcese, P., University of Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  21. Norton-Griffiths, M., 1996, Property rights and the marginal wildebeest: An economic analysis of wildlife conservation options in Kenya . Biodiversity and Conservation 5 1557–1577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Norton-Griffiths M., 1998, The economics of wildlife conservation policy in Kenya. In: Conservation of Biological Resources by Milner-Gulland E.J. and Mace, R. (eds) Blackwell Science Ltd.Google Scholar
  23. Norton-Griffiths, M., 2007, How many wildebeest do you need. World Economics 8 (2) 41–64.Google Scholar
  24. Norton-Griffiths, M., and SaID, M., in press , The future for wildlife on Kenya's rangelands: An economic perspective, in Can Rangelands be Wild Lands? , Edited by Deutsch, J., Du Toit, J., and R. Kock, Zoological Society of London Symposium, Wildlife Conservation Society.Google Scholar
  25. Norton-Griffiths, M., SaID, M., Serneels, S., Kaelo, D., Coughenour, M., Lamprey, R.H., Thompson, D.M., and ReID, R., 2008 , Land use economics in the Mara area of the Serengeti ecosystem, in Serengeti III (Chap. 13), Edited by Sinclair, A., Packer, C., Mduma, S., and Fryxell, J., Chicago University Press, IL.Google Scholar
  26. Olindo, P., and Talbot, L., 1990, Amboseli and Maasai Mara in Kenya, in Living with Wildlife: Wildlife Resource Management with Local Participation in Africa (World Bank Technical Paper No. 130), Edited by Kiss, A., Africa Technical Department Series, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  27. Ottichilo, W.K., de Leeuw, J., SkIDmore, A.K., Prins, H.H.T., and SaID, M., 2000a, Population trends in large non-migratory wild herbivores and livestock in the Maasai Mara ecosystem, Kenya, between 1977 and 1997, in Doctoral Thesis ( Chap. 4 ), Wageningen University and Research Centre, the Netherlands, ISBN. 90-5808-197-4.Google Scholar
  28. Ottichilo, W.K., de Leeuw, J., and Prins, H.T., 2000b, Population trends of resIDent wildebeest and factors influencing them in the Maasai Mara Ecosystem, Kenya, in Doctoral Thesis (Chapter 6), Wageningen University and Research Centre, the Netherlands, ISBN. 90-5808-197-4.Google Scholar
  29. Pennycuick L. 1975, Movements of the migratory wildebeest population in the Serengeti area between 1960 and 1973 . African Journal of Ecology 13 65–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pratt., D.J, and Gwynne, M.D., (eds), 1977, Rangeland Management and Ecology in East Africa, Hodder and Stoughton London.Google Scholar
  31. SaID, M.Y., Ottichilo, W.K., Sinange, R.K., and Aligula, H.M., 1997, Population and Distribution Trends of Wildlife and Livestock in the Mara Ecosystem and the Surrounding Areas: A Study on the Impacts of Land-Use on Wildlife and Environmental Indicators in the East African Savanna. Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing, Kenya.Google Scholar
  32. Sandford, S., 2006, Foreword, in Pastoral Livestock Marketing in Eastern Africa: Research and Policy Challenges, Edited by McPeak, J. and Little, P., ITDG publishing, Rugby, UK.Google Scholar
  33. Seno, S.K., and Shaw, W.W., 2002, Land tenure policies, Maasai traditions, and wildlife conservation in Kenya . Society and Natural Resources 15, 79–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Serneels, S., and Lambin, E.F., 2001, Proximate Causes of Land-Use Change in Narok District, Kenya: A Spatial Statistical Model. Department of Geography, University of Louvain, Belgium.Google Scholar
  35. Serneels, S. SaID, M.Y., Lambin, E.F., 2001, Land cover changes around a major east African wildlife reserve: the Mara Ecosystem (Kenya), International Journal of Remote Sensing, 22(17) 3397–3420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sinclair, A.R.E., 1995, Serengeti past and present, in Serengeti II, Dynamics, Management and Conservation of an Ecosystem, Edited by Sinclair, A.R.E. and Arcese, P., University of Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  37. Sindiga, I. 1984 Land and population problems in Kajiado and Narok, Kenya. African Studies Review 27 23–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sitati, N., 1997, The Change of Land-Use Patterns in the Masai Mara and Its Impact on the Large Herbivore Populations , Project Report , World WIDe Fund for Nature, Nairobi, Kenya .Google Scholar
  39. Southgate, C., and Hulme, D., 1996 ,Land, Water and Local Governance in a Kenyan Wetland in a Dryland: The Kimana Group Ranch and Its Environs, Rural Resources and Rural Livelihoods Working Paper 4, Institute for Development Policy and Management, Manchester University.Google Scholar
  40. Stelfox, J.B., 1986, Effects of livestock enclosures (bomas) on the vegetation of the Athi Plains (Kenya). African Journal of Ecology 24 41–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stelfox, J.G., Peden, D.G., Epp, H., Hudson, R.J., Mbugua, S.W., Agatsiva, J.L., Amuyunzu, C.L., 1986, Herbivore dynamics in southern Narok, Kenya. Journal of Wildlife Management 50(2) 339–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Thompson, D.M., 1998, The Role of Cultivation in Maasai Production Systems on Three Group Ranches Adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, PhD Upgrade Proposal, Department of Anthropology, University College London.Google Scholar
  43. Thompson, D.M., 2002, Livestock, Cultivation, and Tourism, Livelihood Choices and Conservation in Maasai Mara Buffer Zones, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University College London.Google Scholar
  44. Thompson, D.M., and Homewood, K.M., 2002, Entrepreneurs, Elites and Exclusion in Maasailand, Human Ecology Vol. 30, No.1.Google Scholar
  45. Thompson, D.M., Serneels, S., and Lambin, E.L., 2002, Land use strategies in the Mara ecosystem: A spatial analysis linking socio-economic data with landscape variables, in Remote Sensing and GIS Applications for Linking People, Place and Policy, Edited by Walsh, S. and Crews-Meyer, K., Kluwer, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.Google Scholar
  46. Walpole. M.J., and Leader-Williams, N., 2001, Masai Mara tourism reveals partnership benefits. Nature 413 771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Western, D., Russell, S., and Mutu, K., 2006 , The Status of Wildlife in Kenya's Protected and Non-Protected Areas, Paper commissioned by Kenya's Wildlife Policy Review Team, presented at The First Stakeholders Symposium of the Wildlife Policy and Legislation Review, 27–28 September 2006, African Conservation Centre, Nairobi, Kenya. Available online.Google Scholar
  48. Wolanski, E., and Gereta, E., 2001, Water quantity and water quality as the factors driving the Serengeti ecosystem. Hydrobiologia 458 169–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. World Resources Institute, DRSS, MENR, CBS, MPND, ILRI, 2007 , Nature's Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing (Chap. 6 – Tourism), World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Michael Thompson
    • 1
  • Suzanne Serneels
    • 2
  • Dickson Ole Kaelo
    • 3
  • Pippa Chenevix Trench
    • 4
  1. 1.Water and Sanitation for the Urban PoorLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversité catholique de LouvainBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.International Livestock Research InstituteNairobiKenya
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyUniversity College LondonUK

Personalised recommendations