• People and Parks: Pastoralism and Conservation in East Africa

Maasailand Bound

Tomorrow we set off on a great journey into the heart of Maasailand, the home of the Maasai tribe. Spreading across Kenya and Tanzania, this once vast home has been diminished in size by the setting aside of National Parks and rising economic pressures. Although many Maasai still reside in what was once the much larger Maasailand, only a minority continues to live in the traditional way of life.

In the comming weeks we will be headed to places where the traditional way of life still holds, and pastoralism is prevelant. In this time we will be able to meet Maasai elders, warriors, children, and women who will teach us their way of life. Through conversation, cattle herding (the wealth of a Maasai is measured in cattle), and journeying to the top of an active volcano said to be the home of their God, we will be given great insight into the joys and challenges of their lifestyle. 

Our primary objective will be to understand the relationship between the Maasai people and the expanding conservation efforts in the region. In the history of Tanzania, many native tribes have been evicted from parks as they are set aside for pure single use conservation (without the presence of human settlements). As a Biology student most interested in ecology and conservation this initially seemed to be a necsasary trade off, and that although the means may seem negative, the ends make it worth it.

What I have quickly found is that this is not the case. While the parks may be set aside as 'pristine wilderness', the concentration of tribal populations on park borders increase ecological pressures placed on areas outside of the parks. One issue is that the ecological value of these areas are just as important if not more important than many of the areas inside the parks, as they are significant migratory paths and primary habitats to wildlife in the region. The impacts of this this current mentality of conservation are compounded when Maasai grazeland is restricted and it becomes harder to live a pastoralist lifestyle. Clearly the current situation has brought problems to the ecosystem and peoples of northern Tanzania. 

It is my hope then on this journey to search for solutions. The people of Tanzania are proud of their country, their resources, and their identity, and a bright future is before them if they can adress many of these current issues. Through conversation, exploration, and experience the journey that lay ahead will challenge us, but of greater paramount reward us. Although we have come nearly half way across the world to a place so different from our home, I find a source of connection to all whom I have met in the joys that so many of us on this planet share. It is time to make the journey of a lifetime as we head to the heart of Maasailand.