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It is officially the second week of the tour guide training program and Ndoinyo Oloip is filled with the energy of classes, game drives, and meetings. Maasai Field Guides selected by the community are in rigorous college-level courses spanning topics from leadership skills, animal behavior, ecology, geology, and how to work with tourists from different cultures and backgrounds.
Dominic, Maasai Mara University student and participant in the Field Guide Training Program says, “I have learned the adaptations of different animals, answered questions I had about about animal behavior, and styles of handling clients.” John Ole Tira, Chairman of the Maasai Guides Association chimes in, “I have been able to refine what I already know as a tour guide and also to learn more about, for example, hunting strategies-- tracking, ambush, all of that.”
The tour guides are practicing the more scientific language and concepts on game drives with confidence. Last week, delighted by the sight of baby elephants nibbling on their mother’s dung, we had a lively discussion about digestive enzymes (a new word for the notebooks).
Guides share that the Tour Guides Training Program is unique in that it brings opportunities for field guide training to the Mara, rather than Nairobi or somewhere far removed. Steven Montet, an experienced field guide of 8 years, says, “we are still next to our homes, we don’t have to travel far.” This is an advantage for Maasai field guides whose families and communities are rooted in the Mara.
The guides explain that they have experienced clients are wary of guides without official qualifications, even if they have countless hours of experience in the field and depth of knowledge. The Field Guide Training Program gives guides with field experience the opportunity to receive a formal certification. John Ole Tira spoke to this saying, “In my experience you have people who have not gone to school, but they have experience and I think this program can give those people a qualification.” Steven Montet chimes in, “this program has really moved me. It can accept people and give them the advantages of going to classes.”
The students of the Maasai Tour Guide Training Program share a consciousness that they are ready to benefit from the tourism industry in the Mara, an industry that they have only marginally received the advantages from. Maasai people are left with the wildlife conflicts created by tour guide companies who are based out of Nairobi. It is time that the locals are supported through the tourism industry, that they are the gateway to the beauty of the Mara, and that they can, as experienced and educated conservationists maintain the harmonious balance between wild animals, domestic animals, and humans.
Jackson Sirinyi Ole Togom, or Lefti, another tour guide with abundant experience wisely shares, “it is now our time to work very hard…”
The Maasai Guide Training Program will provide much needed further employment opportunities for the Maasai Community within the Maasai Mara National Reserve tourism industry. It provides educational and skill based certifications to further Guides knowledge of the important animal behavior of the larger Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystems. The Maasai Guide Training Program is a comprehensive training, which emphasizes both the western-based scientific knowledge base of the Maasai Mara, as well as the traditional cultural knowledge of the flora and fauna, animal behavior, and ecological understanding of the area.
Kate Cabot a Prescott College professor started the Maasai Mara Field Guide Training program in 2007/2008. It was a successful training and all the graduates are now employed in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. After the grant from Tourism Cares in 2007, founding has been an obstacle. After spending the summer in Kenya in 2015 McKenzie Maddigan and Ellie Healy were inspired to revive the program for the summer of 2016. For the past year Kate and Mckenzie have been collaborating to create a comprehensive curriculum that can educate our students within the limited off seasons months. This program is accessible to everyone however the students are carefully selected by Maasai community elders.