For generations the Maasai people have lived happily along the Great Rift Valley of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania — deep within the heart of Africa. Co-existing with wildlife, these semi-nomadic people are one of the few remaining tribes who continue to live in accordance with their traditional lifestyle. Unfortunately the Maasai have struggled in modern Africa. Since the European settlers arrived in the late 19th century, the tribe has lost over two-thirds of their land, forcing them to relocate to less fertile parts of Kenya and Tanzania. With less land, a steadily increasing population and additional concerns brought on by global warming, it is becoming more and more challenging for the Maasai and their livestock to live in harmony with their surroundings. In recent years there has been a rise in the number of goats and cows being taken by predatory animals like lions. In order to protect their livelihood the Maasai seek retaliation with poison, causing an already at risk lion population to plummet to dangerously low levels. However, one innovative wilderness trust is making great strives to restore the once peaceful co-existence between this tribe and their homeland.
Spending much of his youth in the outback of Kenya on sporting safaris with his father, Luca Belpietro’s passion for East Africa began early in life. As an adult, Luca earned an Economics degree, eventually becoming a successful managing director of a financial consulting firm. However the plains of Africa never left his thoughts. Unable to turn his back on his dream of living and working in the wilderness of East Africa, Luca and his girlfriend (now wife) Antonella Bonomi moved to the Chyulu Hills in Kenya.
Before long, the Belpietros started championing their efforts towards protecting the fate of Africa’s grasslands. Working to gain the trust of the local Maasai, they educated the tribes on the economic benefits of managing their ecosystem wisely. From this a partnership emerged with the Maasai of the Kuku community. Utilizing the tribe’s 300,000 acres of grasslands, they began by building an eco-tourism lodge overlooking at Mount Kilimanjaro called Campi ya Kanzi,
Employing members of the community, Luca and Antonella operate the lodge, while the Maasai retain ownership of the property and a share in the revenues. This eco-friendly lodge only uses solar energy for both electricity and hot water, as well as manages waste sustainably and recycles all black water and gray water. Since its inception, Campi ya Kanzi has amassing numerous awards for sustainability and community partnership.
Furthering their partnership with the Maasai, a $100 per person per night ‘conservation surcharge’ was applied to stays at the lodge. With these funds the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) was born — a partnership between professional conservationists and young Maasai leaders. Dedicated to protecting the ecological treasures of the Maasai’s tribal lands, the MWCT promotes conservation and creates sustainable benefits for the community.
At the helm of this mission is the son of a Maasai chief, Samson Parashina, who is the Chairman of the Board and a Trustee for the MWCT. Highly educated and boasting a great vision about conservation, this respected community leader holds is a Silver level guide Kenya Professional Safari Guide Association.
It didn’t take long for the incredible work being done by the Belpietros and the Maasai people to be noticed. In fact, news of trust even reached Hollywood. Like Luca, acclaimed Actor Edward Norton grew up with an appreciation for wilderness and wildlife. Norton’s father was involved with many conservation programs, and even pioneered the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Landscape Conservation Foundation. (Credit) After learning of the MWCT on a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, this long-time environmental activist decided to get involved. In support of MWCT, on November 1, 2009, Edward Norton and three Maasai Warriors led a team of 30 runners in the New York City marathon. The event was an extraordinary success, not only raising $1.2 million dollars but positioning the MWCT on the global stage.
“The marathon seemed like a more dynamic way to introduce people to MWCT and the idea of community based conservation and invite them to participate. And it was important to us to involve our Maasai partners more actively even in our efforts over here. Maasai are natural runners, running is literally a part of their culture and tradition as warriors, so it seemed very organic to have some of these new generation ‘ecowarriors’ come brave the NY streets for their community” stated Norton.(source)
Today, Edward Norton is the President of MWCF — the US affiliate of MWCT — and has been vital in providing the necessary resources as well as much needed experience to help engineer MWCT into a self-sustaining and fully professional organization.
Over the last few years the trust has affected incredible change. Campi ya Kanzi has become one of the most highly awarded eco-lodges in all of Africa with revenues from tourism to the community approaching $400,000 yearly.
Utilizing the conservation fees collected by the eco-lodge, the MWCT has pioneered incredible programs like Wildlife Pays, which reimburses the Maasai on any livestock killed by lions and other predators. The trust also employs nearly 100 Maasai game scouts and predator monitors to prevent illegal poaching activity, reduce human/wildlife conflict and monitor impacts on biodiversity.
Equally as impressive are the changes the trust is having on the community. The MWCT employs more than 200 local people as well as funds excellent education and health programs. MWCT supports 4 local health dispensaries, 20 primary schools, has built a new school with over 700 students, funds scholarships for postsecondary education and operates the Kanzi Academy for highly talented students.
However they can’t do it without your help. This year why not take a trip that not only will change your life, but will safeguard Africa’s grasslands for future generations. Visitors are invited to come experience appropriate luxury — to indulge in authenticity and culture – and to witness community integration with a holistic balance of wilderness, wildlife, and community.
A safari at Campi ya Kanzi will not only be a lifelong memory for you and your family, but will benefit thousands of Maasai people through the combination of conservation, health, and education programs, run by the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, the sole beneficiary organization of Campi ya Kanzi’s $101 nightly Conservation Fees.