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Basecamp Explorer makes a difference with responsible tourism in Africa

By travelling to one of the most fascinating cultures and tribes in Africa, you also help to create opportunities for the local people to protect their own land and the wildlife. Basecamp Explorer Kenya offers a full range of safari activities, carefully developed to create the ultimate safari experience. A responsible tourism the Maasai Mara people needs.

Basecamp Explorer is a tourism company that operates to a number of destinations across the globe in a responsible way. The Basecamp Explorer Foundation was established alongside the commercial side and the two partners closely with the Maasai people to develop models for saving nature and help the local community.

—The Basecamp dream started by a camp fire in the Maasai tribe, says Svein Wilhemsen, founder of the Basecamp Foundation.

It was a life-changing meeting with the old Maasai, Chief Ole Taek. He told a worrying tale about the threats facing his people and the wildlife. As a tribute to the man who inspired the founding of Basecamp Explorer, the first camp was built on land owned by Taek family. Basecamp Explorer now owns and operates nine permanent camps/smaller lodges; five in the Maasai Mara and five special lodges at Spitsbergen in the High Artic. This marked the beginning of a friendship between two men from completely different worlds; a friendship founded on mutual respect and shared ambitions. 

The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is a unique place with outstanding wildlife species. This ecosystem stretches over 30,000km² of land with the Serengeti in Tanzania in the south and the Maasai Mara in Kenya to the north. The Maasai Mara National Reserve on the Kenyan side of the border is globally unique and famous for the great wildebeest migration, one of the few remaining areas with a rich diversity of wildlife. The ecosystem is also home to the famous Maasai tribe. The tribe who were once a proud and self-sufficient society, are now facing many social, economic, political and environmental challenges.

To combat these threats a couple of foresighted Maasai leaders approached Basecamp Explorer with an invitation to work together on new concepts and models- for long term sustainability. They realized that the privatization of land did not only create considerable challenges but also great opportunities. For Basecamp, this was the opportunity to scale our work considerably and create a model for natural resource management that equally empowered local people and protected wildlife.

For nearly 20 years, Basecamp Explorer and the Maasai community have worked together to transform lives through tourism, and to show visitors the life on the savannah “through Maasai eyes”. At the core of this long-standing partnership is a shared belief that natural resource management has to favour both wildlife and local people.

One of the largest density of lions on the planet

—The vision is to demonstrate how to conserve key global ecosystems through co-existence between wildlife and humans. And the mission is to lead in social & environmental impact, using profitable tourism as the commercial instrument. Our main projects are carried out in cooperation with either local or international implementing partners. Each partner plays a key role in our succesful projects, Svein explains. Our most prominent iniative in wildlife conservancy has been the Mara Naboisho Wildlife Conservancy project.

Today, the Naboisho model has been scaled across the northern part of the Maasai Mara – bordering the world famous Masai Mara National Reserve. This means that over 600 families have got a much better life as landowners of Naboiso conservancy– and close to 14 thousand landowner families across all the private wildlife conservancies in the Mara ecosystem. There has been an incredible increase in wildlife populations, proving nature’s strong ability to bounce back if only given a chance. The variation in topography and vegetation allows for a wide variety of species, including cheetah, leopard, lions, and elephants to thrive. Today, Mara Naboisho has one of the largest density of lions on the planet, with a good chance of finding them due to the open plains. There is need to develop more preservation programs to ensure that these animals are protected in their natural habitat all around Africa.

—There are three different important factors we work with: One is to secure the ecosystem from conflicts with long term leasing contracts of the lands. Another is to create vocational education in new schoolsystems for young students. Which is very important for the girls in these regions. And the last one is to support general livelihood like health and drinkingwater for exemple, Svein explains.

Sustainable development for the Maasai women

Basecamp Explorer identified a strong need for the preservation of the local Maasai culture and for women empowerment. For this reason, we established theBasecamp Masai Brand Project. Basecamp Maasai Brand is a community-based handicraft business that benefits 160 Maasai women who produce artisan goods made from sustainable resources

For many people, the elaborate beadwork made by Maasai women may seem nothing more than a colorful decoration that enlivens ceremonies and dancing. But for the women working with the Brand (BMB), these beads represent their deep devotion to creating a better future for themselves, their children, families and their communities, Says Svein. And they are paid directly when their products are sold, not via their husbands – that is a game changer.

In the core Maasai Mara wildlife ecosystem one third comprises the Mara National Reserve. However, most of Kenya´s wildlife lives outside the national parks – some 60% of it. In the 1960s the government started privatizing the remaining land with subdivisions into group and individual ranches. With reduced habitat for the wildlife, more frequent droughts and an increasing Maasai population, the human-wildlife conflict has escalated to a point that has been leading many local landowners to either sell their land to large agricultural companies or fence their plots to secure grazing fields and protect their cattle. Either of the alternatives has resulted in further loss of natural habitat through overgrazed land and barriers to the free, season-related movements of the wildlife (Great Migration) and the traditional Maasai pastoralists alike, threatening not only the survival of the wildlife and the Maasai culture, but the existence of one of the most important habitats left in the world.

In an effort to revive some of the natural habitat, in 1998 BCMM initiated a tree-planting project on 30 acres of the area surrounding the camp, resulting in improved natural environment and encouraging wealth of birdlife back to the vicinity. With more than 100´000 trees planted to date, the BCMM camp site has been transformed into a “micro-climate” area.

Aiming to revive the biodiversity and empower the local community in the region surrounding the BCMM, Basecamp Explorer Kenya partnered with the Talek community and leased 100 more acres of land, planning to expand the area to 300 acres in the future. The goal is to develop a sustainable conservation and reforestation plan – scaling to 500 thousand trees within 3- 5 years. However, the ambitions are not only consisting of expanded tree-planting, but also including several community development programs, such as waste management, infrastructure for water access, and livestock programs.

A showcase of increased biodiversity

With more than 100’000 trees planted to date, the BCMM has become a haven for over 300 bird species and 80 – even previously extinct – plant species that have been eradicated outside of this area.

CO2 offsetting: by the end of 2019 Basecamp Explorer Kenya will plant 70’000 more trees on 100 additional acres surrounding the BCMM camp site, thereafter up to 100 thousand trees per year - offsetting approximately 100’000 tons (for a period of 20 years) of carbon emissions caused by its tourism operations

Community development: the sustainable reforestation project also covers critical community development initiatives, such as waste management or a reliable access to water, mitigating the human-wildlife conflict especially during dry seasons; furthermore, people benefit from increased access to medical plants and fire wood

Capacity building and empowerment of people: Basecamp Explorer Kenya is training andemploy local Maasai to set-up and run the seedling nursery, plant the trees, and implement the associated community development projects

Scalable model: the reforestation project serves as a show case area of “resilience against drought”; the reforestation area can be used as a grass bank for the livestock of the partner families who have leased their land for the project.

Up to 70 % of the needed finances to sustain the land for wildlife within the conservancies like Naboisho comes from the tourist sector. And the rest from some important organisations supporting Basecamp Explorer Foundation such as Norad - the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The Agency is a directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Commercial Companies mostly from Switzerland and Norway are an important contributor as well as private donations.


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